Christa Lawler, Forum Communications, Published August 02 2012
TV news director apologizes for commentsDULUTH, Minn. – A local TV news director’s Facebook comment about a “drunk, homeless, Native American” who wandered into his yard caused a stir on social media websites Thursday and provoked a request for an on-air apology from two local commissions.
Jason Vincent of Fox 21 wrote on his personal page Wednesday night:
“Add drunk, homeless, Native American man to the list of animals that have wandered into my yard … Then he proceed (sic) to wave at me and give me the peace sign when he spotted me in the window. Wow …”
A screen grab of the status update was posted on the Fond du Lac People’s Forum. It was shared at least 60 times and had 136 comments by Thursday afternoon.
Vincent did not return phone calls to the Duluth News Tribune but issued an apology that briefly appeared on Fox 21’s Facebook page. In it, he said he had already sent private messages to several people. A similar version was posted on the Fond du Lac People’s Forum.
“I have deleted the post and I certainly understand why it’s being taken out of context and viewed as offensive,” he wrote. “I would never insult the Native American community, especially since I myself am Native. I did not realize how poor the choice of words were I used until I looked back and saw what I had posted. I sincerely apologize for my words and to anyone offended by them.”
Vincent was a reporter and anchor in Fargo before he was hired as Fox 21’s news director in early 2010. Fox 21 general manager Jackie Bruenjes had no comment and said through an employee that the situation would be handled internally. Vincent is still employed at the news station.
Duluth’s American Indian Commission and the Human Rights Commission issued a joint statement on Vincent’s status update asking for an on-air apology and that the station’s staff complete an educational workshop on racism.
“As a white man in a position of power, he contributes to our thinking and structures of stereotypes, images, metaphors and emotions,” the statement said. “This is an opportunity for the community to be further educated on issues of race in Duluth, and we hope that there comes growth from this incident.”
Brian Flick of St. Paul was one of the first to comment on a shared version of Vincent’s status update.
“It made me upset,” Flick said. “It’s a racist comment. … Basically, when I read it, I thought he was referring to Native Americans as animals.”
Rob Peacock of Cloquet said he was taken aback by what Vincent wrote.
“What he did say didn’t hurt me,” he said. “It did hurt other people. A lot of people, they kind of expect that stuff. And even me personally. I’m a light-skinned native and I’ve heard a lot of comments about natives (from people) not knowing I grew up on the reservation and that my father (Robert “Sonny” Peacock) was chairman for 16 years on the reservation.”
Peacock said he didn’t buy Vincent’s apology but thought the public nature of the apology and that he personally contacted some of the people he offended were big moves.
“I give him some respect there,” Peacock said. “I think personally he should probably find an activity, like the white bias programs in Duluth, and go to some seminars and probably take some time off of work to go to them.”
Peacock said a lot of people in Northern Minnesota could use cultural sensitivity training and that Vincent’s status has started a conversation about racism.
“It gives us a moment to talk about it,” he said.
From a social media perspective, Marty Weintraub of locally based aimClear said people in public roles should forget about posting anything personal online.
“If you’re a public figure, Facebook and Twitter is not the place to do your life, it’s a place to do your career,” he said. “When you’re the president of the United States, you can’t go to a pizza place either. It goes with the celebrity turf. When you’re a public figure, you sacrifice that thing where you get to be personal in public. So many people have learned that.”
Christa Lawler writes for the Duluth News Tribune