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TV weatherman who called out his employer is fired

June 13, 2019
A sign supporting Springfield meteorologist Joe Crain appears at Grab a Java, a drive-through coffee joint, on Monday, June 10, 2019 in Springfield, Ill. The central Illinois city is defending a popular meteorologist who has been absent from local television newscasts since he criticized a corporate weather-alert brand. (AP Photo/John O'Connor)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — An Illinois broadcast meteorologist who was taken off television after criticizing an unpopular “Code Red” weather alert system has been fired, his former employer said.

Joe Crain’s dismissal was confirmed Thursday by Rob Ford, a spokesman for Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns Crain’s ex-employer, WICS-TV in Springfield. Ford declined further comment.

Crain, a 15-year WICS veteran, was absent from newscasts after an on-air critique June 5 of Sinclair’s “Code Red” weather-alert brand , which the station subsequently announced would be replaced.

Crain acknowledged widespread community complaints in this, the nation’s 82nd largest TV market, that “Code Red” was alarmist and imprecise. He said it was improperly “all-inclusive” and failed to recognize storms’ varying degrees.

“When you hear ‘Code Red,’ you think, as they say, the feces is about to hit the fan. We understand your concerns,” Crain said. “It’s not us. This is a corporate initiative, the ‘Code Red’ alert, and behind the scenes, many of us have tried to dissuade it for the last few months.”

Crain has declined comment.

Mort Meisner, a Royal Oak, Michigan-based television talent agent, said Crain’s contract likely included a standard “moral turpitude” clause subjecting him to discipline or dismissal for action which embarrasses the station. A 20-year veteran news director and editor, Meisner said, “If you blast your owners or your bosses publicly, you probably should be fired.”

Meisner, who represents some talent working for Sinclair, noted that weather is the top reason viewers tune in to television news, and the media have a responsibility not to frighten them needlessly with forecasts.

“I side with him (Crain) that it might be overkill, but I side with them (Sinclair) once he blasts or questions ownership publicly and especially on the air.”

Crain’s absence from newscasts unleashed social-media protests, petitions demanding his return, and advertiser boycotts. Businesses pulled their ads in support of Crain and to protest “Code Red” as a needless alarm that persuaded people to stay home and away from restaurants and retail stores.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat who lives in Springfield, voiced support for Crain. A weekly newspaper reporter composed a song, “Joe Crain,” to the tune of the early 20th Century labor anthem, “Joe Hill,” and the brouhaha was the subject of a parody bit on “The Late Show” with Stephen Colbert.

WICS general manager Rick Lipps posted an online video Monday in which he announced that the station would replace “Code Red” with a “Weather Warn” banner and that managers would work to improve geographic specificity of alerts.

Lipps said in the video that he could not comment on Crain because it was a personnel matter. But Sinclair posted a solicitation for a WICS meteorologist on its website Tuesday.

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Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor .

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