An Illinois weatherman who made headlines for criticizing on-air his Sinclair-owned station’s use of “Code Red” alerts is now out of his job.
Meteorologist Joe Crain has been fired from his position at Springfield’s ABC affiliate, WICS-TV, a public relations official for the Sinclair Broadcast Group confirmed to HuffPost on Thursday. WICS also acknowledged that Crain is no longer with the station but would not comment on the circumstances surrounding his termination. CNN was first to report the news.
On Tuesday, a job listing for a morning meteorologist at WICS appeared on Sinclair’s website.
Last week, Crain was absent from his usual weather reports after launching a real-time rebuke of the channel’s all-caps “Code Red” message as it flashed on the screen alongside a lightning bolt to caution viewers about potentially severe storms.
The problem, he said, was that “it doesn’t recognize that not all storms are created equal,” unlike the more detailed scale used by the National Weather Service.
Crain then pointed out that viewers had already made myriad complaints about the alerts.
“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.”
He then blamed the alerts on a “corporate initiative,” adding that “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.”
In a statement released Monday, WICS General Manager Rick Lipps appeared to dispute Crain’s portrayal of “Code Red” as a directive from higher-ups, emphasizing that the decision to use it “is made at the local level.”
However, Lipps noted that the alert “may no longer be fitting” and would be changed to “Weather Warn.”
“In addition, we will continue to work to more precisely define the specific geographic areas of greatest concern,” he said.
Though the episode ended in Crain’s dismissal, a strong effort emerged to defend him, including a Change.org petition called “Bring Back Joe Crain,” which has earned more than 16,000 signatures.
On Wednesday, Crain’s plight reached the ears of comedian Stephen Colbert, who featured a segment on his firing, joking that “like all revolutionaries, he paid a price.”
Sinclair, the country’s largest owner of local TV stations, faced sweeping scrutiny in 2018 after Deadspin released a video of dozens of its anchors reading scripts lamenting “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country,” including “fake stories” and “false news.”
The words caught the attention of critics who recognized that the message was strikingly similar to President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media, raising questions over whether Sinclair was following his lead and pursuing a conservative agenda.