An Illinois weatherman may have thrown his job into jeopardy after calling out his Sinclair-owned station’s use of a dramatic “Code Red” alert while delivering a live report.
Joe Crain, a meteorologist at the Springfield, Illinois, ABC affiliate, WICS-TV, has been off the air since Wednesday, when he unleashed his monologue of criticism, according to CNN.
Delivering the forecast before a screen that flashed the warning accompanied by a lightning bolt, Crain said that “Code Red” is “not the perfect solution” because “it doesn’t recognize that not all storms are created equal,” unlike the National Weather Service scale, which is more detailed.
Crain joked that the advisory “was created by likely a journalism school graduate” and remarked on the flood of complaints from viewers.
“A lot of people were not very happy with this over the last few months since we’ve implemented it on Storm Team 20,” he said. “That’s evident by the thousands of comments on social media, letters to the editor, frequent calls to local talk radio shows.”
Appearing to take aim at Sinclair Broadcast Group, Crain then told his audience that “it’s not us.”
“This is a corporate initiative ... and behind the scenes, many of us have tried to dissuade it for the last few months, to try something else that’s less controversial to the viewers.”
According to the local State Journal-Register newspaper, several area businesses have now pulled their advertising from the channel in solidarity with Crain.
Sinclair public relations officer Ronn Torossian defended the alert in a statement to The Washington Post, writing that the company was glad it issued a Code Red.
“That afternoon there was significant storm damage in the area including trees falling on homes, downed power lines, and hail storms. Thankfully, residents were adequately warned to prepare,” he added.
On Monday, WICS General Manager Rick Lipps released a statement declining to comment on “individual personnel matters” regarding Crain but noted that the Code Red alerts would be renamed “Weather Warn.”
“We firmly believe in the need to provide an early warning alert and will continue to provide this potentially lifesaving information, but we have come to understand that the words Code Red may no longer be fitting,” Lipps said. “As such, we are changing the name of our early warning alert to ‘Weather Warn.’ In addition, we will continue to work to more precisely define the specific geographic areas of greatest concern.”
Crain, who has more than 20 years of broadcast experience in radio and on TV, has gained widespread attention on social media. A Facebook page titled “Supporters of Meteorologist Joe Crain” popped up on Thursday, garnering more than 12,000 likes.
A Change.org petition called “Bring Back Joe Crain” has also been created, earning more than 15,000 signatures. The document points out that Crain’s photo and biography have been taken down from WICS’ website, and his employment status remains unknown.
Sinclair, the nation’s biggest owner of local TV stations, has come under scrutiny from critics who believe that it is pursuing a conservative agenda and that employees fear they’re being watched.
In 2018, Deadspin released a video showing dozens of anchors at Sinclair’s stations reading scripts decrying “fake stories” and “false news” at “some media outlets.”
The identical lines, which echoed President Donald Trump’s signature rebukes of the media, raised concerns that the corporation was following in his footsteps.
This article has been updated to include a comment from the station’s general manager saying the Red Code alerts would be renamed.