For the second time this month, a newscaster has had to apologize for mispronouncing Martin Luther King Jr.’s name on air—thus changing the civil rights icon’s name into a racial slur.
During an early morning newscast on Thursday, KTVI (Channel 2) newscaster Kevin Steincross was speaking about an upcoming MLK tribute at St. Louis University when he referred to King as “Martin Luther coon Jr.,” reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
By 9 a.m. Steincross was apologizing for the slur slip up.
“I want to take a moment to apologize,” Steincross told viewers. “We have heard from a viewer about a mistake I made in our 5 a.m. newscast. In our story about the tribute to Dr. King, I unfortunately mispronounced his name. Please know I have total respect for Dr. King, what he meant and what he continues to mean to our country. This was not intentional in any way, and I sincerely apologize.”
Steincross’ apology comes just a couple weeks after another newscaster, News10 NBC’s Jeremy Kappell, was fired from his job as a weatherman after saying it looked gray at “Matin Luther coon King Jr. Park” in Rochester, N.Y.
The station terminated him three days later—a decision supported by none other than Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren. The mayor, who is black, called Kappell’s wording hurtful and said they revealed cultural insensitivity.
But some newscasters came to Kappell’s side, including NBC’s Al Roker, who referred to the phrasing as an “unfortunate flub.”
Roker is certainly right: flubs—be it mispronunciations or malapropisms—happen all the time in broadcast journalism. But the stakes are inarguably higher in Kappell’s and Steincross’ case, and not just because a racial slur was casually slipped into a broadcast. “Martin Luther coon” was an insult hurled at MLK frequently by the most aggressive racists (and spoken quietly, away from mixed company, among the passive ones).
The St. Louis County NAACP chapter responded to Steincross’ words on Thursday, calling the incident “unacceptable and disappointing,” but stopped short of calling for Steincross’ ousting.
Tribune Broadcasting said they will not take additional disciplinary action against Steincross—which, as the Post Dispatch notes, is consistent with how other high profile instances of broadcasters saying “Martin Luther coon” on air have been treated (As just one example, Mike Greenberg of ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” apologized for saying this on air in 2010 over the MLK holiday weekend. He wasn’t fired).
“The Fox2 management team spoke to Kevin following the mistake and we believe that it was truly inadvertent and does not reflect Kevin’s core beliefs,” a Tribune spokesperson wrote in a statement published by the Post Dispatch. “Kevin is extremely upset by the mistake and regrets it deeply.”
Updated: 1/24/2019, 3:05 p.m. EST: St. Louis County’s NAACP has reached out to The Root to confirm that they’ve asked Tribune Broadcasting and station leadership at KTVI to fire news anchor Kevin Steincross over his use of a racial slur as he was saying Martin Luther King Jr.’s name.
John Gaskin III, head of the St. Louis County NAACP chapter, said the civil rights organization has had “continuous communication” with the station since the incident happened, including a closed-door meeting with Tribune leadership on Monday, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“They are taking our concerns and request extremely seriously,” Gaskin told The Root, adding that calls for Steincross’ firing have been echoed by other local civil rights groups.
“It is our hope that the blowback from this incident is continued to be taken seriously by all local media outlets, as it can have irreparable impact to their brands and reputation amongst their viewers,” said Gaskin.
Tribune Media did not offer comment after the meeting with Gaskin.
“I understand some people believe it was a mistake, but there are some mistakes in every field that are grounds for termination,” Gaskin reiterated in an interview with the Post-Dispatch.