During the weather segment on Wednesday morning, Joe Crain, a veteran meteorologist with Springfield’s ABC-affiliated WICS-TV (News Channel 20), offered unexpected on-air criticism of his station’s “Code Red” weather warning system.
He said it was a “corporate initiative” that ignores the fact that “not all storms are equal.”
He acknowledged many viewers of the station had been complaining about the Code Red storm alert system through comments on social media, letters, and phone calls, and tried to reassure viewers that they were not ignoring the widespread complaints.
Crain went on to inform viewers the station’s Code Red alert system was not the fault of staff members, saying it was a “corporate initiative” and that many of them at the station have been working behind the scenes to convince the higher-ups to try a different system.
After warning of possible wind gusts that could exceed 60 miles an hour later in the day and the possibility of an “isolated tornado,” he expressed his regrets.
Crain said that, unlike the National Weather Service warning system that has color and number scales which help to make alerts more precise and specific, the station’s Code Red system was “all-inclusive.”
He said that it did not distinguish storms according to how severe they were expected to be.
“On the other hand, Code Red was created by, likely, a journalism school graduate,” he said. “That being said, I’m a journalism school graduate.”
He also noted that some of the criticism they received on social media was harsh. He expressed amazement about how “vile and cruel” people could be on social media as well as “in person.”
He then went on to excuse staff members, saying that the unpopular Code Red alert system was not their fault but the fault of the “bosses.”
“We’re just doing our job. After all, we have mouths to feed, bills to pay, just like everybody else,” he said. “So if the boss says ‘Code Red’… says ‘jump’… we go, ‘how high?'”
Joe Crain fired?
Following his controversial on-air comments on Wednesday, the veteran meteorologist, who has been with WICS-TV since 2004, and is the longest-serving on-air personality at the Springfield station, did not appear on air as expected during the morning news on Thursday.
His conspicuous absence sparked speculation that he might have been fired for publicly criticizing the station’s management.
Speculation that he might have been fired intensified after many noticed later in the afternoon that his photograph had been removed from the biography page on the News Channel 20 website.
The State Journal-Register reported that they reached out to Rick Lipps, the general manager of WICS-TV’s Sinclair Broadcast Group, to inquire about Crain’s status, but he did not immediately respond.
Only Crain responded to inquiries with a brief statement that he was still employed by WICS-TV and he did not want to comment further on the subject.
Meanwhile, people have been showing support for Crain through comments posted to New Channel 20’s Facebook page and on Twitter under the hashtag #StandWithJoeCrain.
— Angie Muhs (@amuhs) June 6, 2019
The Joe Crain drama happening on @wics_abc20's Facebook page is terrific. The snark is key.
They had a dumb post about some kids with pro/con lists. A commenter replied… pic.twitter.com/QrfzeWNsLN
— Thomas L Marten (@SenorMarten) June 7, 2019
— Kevin Ladage (@kladage) June 6, 2019
— FOTUS (@JFeRg52) June 7, 2019
Watch @JoeCrain, weatherman w/ Sinclair Broadcasting's affiliate in Springfield, Mo. apologize for issuing all-too-frequent "code red" weather alerts, forced on him by management. His bio is now off the station website. More: https://t.co/9dGcSXuLeO https://t.co/NM7fbsaZ85
— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) June 7, 2019
A representative of Sinclair later responded via email, saying it was part of the company’s policy not to comment on “personal matters.” However, the company representative defended the station’s warning system for the weather.
The representative claimed that the severe weather events across the country in recent weeks made the Code Red alerts a critical function in keeping viewers informed.
However, nothing was mentioned of the perceived ineffectiveness of the system compared to the National Weather Service system and just said: “we will continue to trust our local experts to know when to make the call to announce these warnings.”