Wednesday, January 9, 2019

WHEC Did The Right Thing In Firing Jeremy Kappell. Here’s Why.

By MJ Vara

People are totally giving Mr. Kappell a pass on this. Well, if what he did was so innocuous he’ll be employed here or at some other city within weeks.

They say it was a "simple" mistake (what a totally weird mistake -- to conflate a common English surname and noun -- "King" -- with a racist slur -- which is “a thing” racists do use that term as part of MLK's name!

People defend Jeremy Kappell saying WHEC owes him better (he has created a huge mess for his contractual employer!), that we would "forgive" him (that is a process that takes time to heal -- and comes after the "sinner" has fully accepted responsibility for the act and damage that arises from it.

I wish Mr. Kappell well (I have no reason to wish him ill) and I wish his wife and children the best (they’re completely innocent — even of making an error in this matter).
But Kappell brought this down on himself and the circumstances are suspect.

For those who think Mr. Kappell is the victim of "liberal snowflakes” and a liberal media, etc. quite the contrary: this is solid, American, capitalist, “John Wayne” territory — accept responsibility, man-up, deal with it and move on!

Lately it seems the right-wingers are the snowflakes.

Feeling entitled, constantly whining, not accepting accountability, and so forth.

Of course Mr. Kappell deserves a second chance (we all do) — but, WHEC is not the place for the second chance (likely, neither is Rochester).

He was not executed — he was fired for messing up badly on live TV! 

Second chances do not have to take place in the same place (or the same relationship/company/city, etc.).

It’s like a romantic break-up: no one is saying, “Go die you hateful scum!” It is simply WHEC saying, “You messed up, humiliated us — move on!"

Now to the matter at hand:

This incident happened live, on-air (broadcast, not cable/subscription TV, etc), thus a community issue (old-school broadcast to all).

Since it was broadcast out to the entire community everyone has a right to discuss it, express their views, speculate, etc. 

I just think the speculation should be somewhat “educated” and not rash -- one way or the other.

Since we do not know what is in this man’s heart, unfortunately, we are left to speculate. It would help to know Mr. Kappell's "social milieu" — Does he have minority friends? What are his political leanings? Does he attend a church with a diverse population or with social ethics that defend vulnerable folks?

This may all seem a private matter — but it would help to know these things to assess Mr. Kappell in life-context, and specifically, as these parameters relate to his views on race/ethnicity, etc.

Often, when we cannot know what is in a person’s heart (and cannot give full weight to their own self-defense as it is self-serving) we must consider the incident at hand by other measures (for example, in law, aside from direct and circumstantial evidence, we look at “consciousness of guilt”.

What people are not considering here is that in this case WHEC’s ethical and corporate duties as a for-profit business and an organization that serves a wide community take precedence.

WHEC has no obligation to Mr. Kappell except those spelled out in his work contract (again, something many people don’t get) — and he broke that contract.

Consider the actual, indisputable incident: what occurred on air could not go unnoticed (we should all agree on that, I hope!).

So it follows: once noticed, it had to be addressed. It was certainly the kind of incident that stops you in your tracks: “What did he just say???!!! Did he actually say that — or did I mishear?"

The defense of Mr. Kappell (and his defenders): “Oh, it was a simple slip of the tongue!”

If it was a slip-of-the-tongue it was a NOT a simple one by any means: it was a HIGHLY unusual term to use -- and it asks a lot of us to consider it a coincidence.

I mean, come on! 

A very common American/English surname, that is also a noun (King) that happens to be the name of a major Civil Rights icon, and Mr. Kappell substitutes it with a very common, well-known, racist term???!!!

And, to boot, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is, in fact, referred to by this hateful moniker by racists! 

As the kids say: it’s a thing!

Keep in mind, as well, that not all "slips of the tongue" are simple mistakes; often, they reveal hidden attitudes and viewpoints (look up "Freudian slip” in the actual, clinical definition).

Again, I’m speculating (but this was a public incident and speculating is legitimate).

This could be a term Mr. Kappell has used before in private, perhaps it indicates how he thinks of MLK Park and its visitors, and it could be an unconscious belief that was accidentally revealed in an unguarded moment.

How do I know?

I don't.

How do you know otherwise?

And, more importantly, “brass tacks” reality and what most people do not get: this man has an obligation to his employer and colleagues — to not embarrass the corporation, to not damage the brand, to not attract controversy and potential litigation, etc.

Actually, Mr. Kappell has already damaged WHEC; he has created a huge mess for them — he has stirred up a hornet’s nest on both sides (not the role of a meteorologist, generally speaking) and he divided the community.

This is not a simple error — putting aside trying to read the man’s heart/mind, and looking at the facts: Mr. Kappell used a radioactive term while performing a very public job for a private employer that serves a diverse community; he did it during a live broadcast and while describing a park named after a beloved, martyred American hero, which is frequented by many minority folks (one of Mr. Kappell’s defenders suggested changing the name to Rochester City Park!).

Such disdain is, in fact, typical of racists and such a term is, in fact, used to describe Dr. King in private conversation. 

Again, not a simple slip of the tongue (so many excuses — another defender of Mr. Kappell’s now says he is known to have a lisp!).

If Mr. Kappell is in fact not a racist — not prejudiced, has a record of supporting minority communities (volunteers at the Boys and Girls Club, etc.) that is great (I would really like to know more about him).

But, again, on this one, he should apologize more fully, state his actual views of Dr. King, and accept responsibility and seek other employment elsewhere (he did this to some extent — but did a lot of “explaining away” rather than a genuine statement along the lines of: “I did say that, I was shocked myself, I don’t know if somehow it was in my consciousness, a residual of something I heard in childhood/adolescence, from friends saying it, etc. I am going to reflect on it, pray on it, and I am very sorry. I do understand how I placed my employers in a bind and they had no choice but to let me go.”

Mr. Kappell seemed “primed” to follow the words Martin Luther with the epithet — as if automatically, unconsciously going down a familiar road. Again, it could be a childhood memory, a fragment, something.

But, he remains on-point: just a slip (now he is urging people to say Dr. Martin Luther King over and over, implying we’d make the same error).

Nope, I am not buying the “simple slip” claim. 

Again — to emphasize: racists call MLK that very term: Martin Luther C—n.

Come on!

This is so clear.

So, firing Mr. Kappall is a job performance issue — not at all a "liberal media" attack.

After all, we do not live in a communist nation -- we live in a capitalist nation with private enterprise, business interests, for-profit interests, legally-binding work contracts, etc. (along with ethical obligations to the viewing public/community-as-a-whole).

I am not suggesting WHEC has only corporate interests in mind — but I am focusing here on the clear-cut private employment aspect, the human resources/job contract aspect.

Finally, as our nation continues in "regression mode," as a large swatch of our people are corrupted by the current president, as prejudice is on the ascendant, and as our American principles and norms are attacked and degraded by Trump — we are left with the general public, political and religious leaders, and even private corporations to stand up for what is right, what is ethical, what is AMERICAN.

WHEC did just that (intent is not an issue with something so flagrant as a live, on-air, racial slur — the audio alone suffices to take action).

I applaud WHEC’s actions and wish Mr. Kappell well in his future endeavors.

I hope he looks into his heart for any unconscious, psychological “residue” of prejudice (it was such an extremely WEIRD thing to say that Mr. Kappell, a person who publicly declares himself a Christian, goes by Christian principles, needs to accept that he “sinned” here on some level, needs to take  responsibility, needs to seek to calm his defenders’ needlessly provoked emotions, and needs to simply accept responsibility/accountability.

Mr. Kappell, you have stirred folks up enough — please do not divide this community further by creating a contentious campaign to defend you for words that came out of your mouth — and are indefensible.

Editor’s Note: 

MJ Vara is a regular contributor on The Davy V. Blog.

He has a Masters degree from SU and a New York State license, both in a counseling field, and over 25 years experience practicing psychotherapy. He wishes to make it clear his piece is speculative/metaphorical and in no way does he claim to know what is Mr. Kappell's actual racial attitudes/beliefs. However, in MJVara's view, everyone is "taking sides" on this issue without much depth of thinking and he wished to share his own thinking, based on his general knowledge.