Former Fox 21 news director finds new job -- and contrition
Let's call it Jason's Journey.
For former Fox 21 KQDS-TV news director Jason Vincent, 32, it's a continuum of everything he'd learned, or hadn't learned, about cultural respect and identity, including his own.
For those who only first heard of him two weeks ago, when a Facebook comment he'd posted disparaging of Native Americans went viral, it's a story about contrition, and maybe learning and growing a little.
"It hasn't been fun," Vincent said Friday on WGZS-FM, the Fond du Lac Band's radio station, in his first public interview since the flap. "From the very beginning, I apologized up and down for what I did and the horrible comment that I made and the hurt (it) caused."
Posted on Vincent's personal Facebook page late on Aug. 1, the comment read: "Add drunk, homeless, Native American man to the list of animals that have wandered into my yard ..."
He removed it quickly enough, but not before someone nabbed a screen capture and posted it on the Fond du Lac People's Forum, where it was roundly denounced. The News Tribune reported it on Aug. 3, and the story went around the world.
By then, Vincent had apologized, with a statement appearing briefly on Fox 21's website, saying: "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."
Not satisfied with that, members of Duluth's American Indian Commission and Human Rights Commission demonstrated at the station, seeking a dialogue about diversity with management, they said, and not calling for Vincent's head -- though one errant protester chanted just that, with a catchy "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Jason Vincent's got to go!"
By the next Monday, it appeared that the station shared that sentiment, issuing a new statement reading: "Jason has elected to take a new job assignment" and wishing him the best. Many assumed he'd been fired or resigned under pressure.
Not true, Vincent said Friday, and again in a News Tribune interview yesterday.
"I'm moving to (Cedar Rapids) Iowa, KGAN-TV. I'll be a morning anchor down there," he said, explaining he had been looking for a new job for several months and the offer came coincidentally.
"(The posting) happened on a Wednesday night. I happened to get the job offer on Thursday, accepted on Friday, and put my two weeks' notice in on Monday" -- two weeks ago tomorrow.
That made last Friday his last day, which he said is why, following station policies, he couldn't talk before then.
And now that he can, he repeatedly says he's sorry. A lot. The radio show (on which I was also a guest) went on for an hour and 50 minutes, much of it to explain to anyone unaware that it's insulting to call any group of people "animals" and particularly to perpetuate the stereotype of "drunken Indians."
Audio of WGZS-FM radio broadcast:
The night before the broadcast, Vincent also met with Ricky DeFoe and other members of the American Indian and Human Rights commissions.
"Do you feel like you're a victim?" Vincent recalled being asked. "No, I don't think I'm a victim. If you think you are a victim, you're not realizing what you did wrong. And I realize what I did wrong."
DeFoe recalled it differently yesterday, saying Vincent at first implied he was. But, DeFoe allowed, "He journeyed from that moment."
For my part, I said on the show that people of various backgrounds certainly have heard of sticks-and-stones and aren't a bunch of crybabies. With my dual heritage, I've been called the n-word, the k-word and a lot more -- and have no intention of letting them give me a bad day. But that in no way gives anyone license to hurl what are in fact instruments of hate and disrespect.
Vincent used the airtime to answer another question: Is he really Native?
"It's on my dad's side," he said. "My grandfather's grandfather came from a tribe in southern Minnesota" -- later identifying it as Mdewakanton Sioux, though he's not enrolled and hasn't lived the experience.
He may join another Native group, however. While condemning his comment, members of the Native American Journalists Association have invited him to join. Vincent said he is considering it and only just now has become aware of the organization, which advocates for the hiring of Native journalists and sensitivity in covering Native communities.
And in his ever-evolving journey, Jason's learning a lot about that.
Robin Washington is editor of the News Tribune. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.