Host of CNBC’s ‘Squawk Box,’ Joe Kernen, acknowledges ‘inappropriate and insensitive’ on-air remarks about Indian Americans

CNBCThe host of CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Joe Kernen, knew he was treading on dangerous territory during a conversation last Friday about India’s currency. Yet Mr. Kernen knowingly stepped in it when he used accented speech and ethnic stereotypes when talking about the rupee.

The program’s co-hosts, Becky Quick and Andrew Ross Sorkin, knew better. Ms. Quick even admonished Mr. Kernen, telling him to stop. Yet Kernen proceeded. He spoke with a mocking accent when referring to Gandhi. He also asked, presumably of Indians, “Are they good at 7-Eleven?”

Ms. Quick rightly called the comment “insulting.”

While we are glad Mr. Kernen has issued a statement, we at the Asian American Journalists Association joined the Indian American community and others in expressing earlier concern.

In a statement sent to MediaWatch today by CNBC, Mr. Kernen acknowledged making “an inappropriate and insensitive remark on Squawk Box.”

“I apologize for any offense it caused,” he said.

There are more than 1.2 billion people in India and nearly 3 million Indian Americans, who contribute to their economies across all business sectors. Many Asian Americans, including those of Indian descent, have built careers in the country’s financial sectors, including Wall Street.

Mr. Kernen’s comments are offensive not only to Indian Americans, but to all Americans who value respect and fair treatment.

Mr. Kernen’s on-air apology during Friday’s program seemed half-hearted. “I apologize, before I have to,” he said – hardly a mea culpa ringing with sincerity. He should have apologized because it’s the decent thing to do.

His remarks today were a start, although it isn’t clear if Mr. Kernen actually believes he was being offensive. We hope Mr. Kernen will be counseled, if not already, as to why his words were so demeaning, and we urge CNBC to encourage its employees to learn more about the diverse communities they cover.

As we have seen in recent days, particularly after the crowning of an Indian American as the new Miss America, there continues to be a lack of understanding, awareness and sensitivity when it comes to race, ethnicity and culture. We can all do better, and our newsrooms need to work harder to be sure that our communities are treated with the respect they deserve. We’ve prepared a stylebook to help.

AAJA and AAJA MediaWatch stand ready to assist any news organizations that have questions or concerns about news coverage and race.

Paul Cheung, AAJA President
Zain Shauk and Bobby Caina Calvan, AAJA MediaWatch Committee