On Jan. 11, Ken Jennings will appear for the first time as a guest host of the beloved quiz show “Jeopardy!,” following the Nov. 8 death of Alex Trebek from pancreatic cancer.
Jennings gained national attention in 2004 by winning $2.5 million at the end of a 74-game winning streak on Jeopardy. In January 2020 he won $1M in the “Jeopardy Greatest of All Time Tournament,” defeating James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter.
Jennings joined Jeopardy in September as a producer and has been featured in some episodes giving video clues to contestants. Many viewed this exposure as a signal that Jennings would succeed Trebek.
What should be a smooth transition is being clouded by some of Jennings’ tweets from years ago. For instance, he wrote in 2014: “There’s nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair.” He apologized and on Dec. 30 wrote a multipart tweet about saying “unartful and insensitive things.”
As far as Twitter scandals go, this one appears to be mild and should end quickly, but Jennings is not out of the woods.
Enter Seattle musician John Roderick, who co-hosts a podcast with Jennings.
Roderick became known as “Bean Dad” this month after tweeting about how his daughter wanted baked beans but he forbade her from eating anything until she learned how to work the can opener.
It took her six hours to figure it out, which triggered a storm of social media criticism about his sorry parenting skills.
Roderick responded: "My story about my daughter and the can of beans was poorly told," he posted on his site. "I didn't share how much laughing we were doing, how we had a bowl of pistachios between us all day as we worked on the problem."
The singer also apologized for his past posting of racist and anti-Semitic tweets that he claimed were intended to be “ironic and sarcastic.”
He has deleted his Twitter account and is “taking a hiatus from my public life to let some of these lessons sink in.”
Jennings defended Roderick on Jan. 3 via Twitter: "I personally know John to be (a) a loving and attentive dad who (b) tells heightened-for-effect stories about his own irascibility on like 10 podcasts a week."
The Jeopardy champ Jennings needs to deliver a solid performance in his debut as host. The producers have announced there will be other guest hosts, including Katie Couric.
If he is named permanent host, Jennings will definitely embark on a press tour and deal with the Twitter fiasco.
Jeopardy is a game that is mastered by those who have spent years acquiring knowledge and are able to summon precise, factual answers in seconds.
For Jennings to lose a coveted role due to stupid remarks will be a blight on the intellectualism that has made the program popular for thirty-seven years.
Kevin P. McVicker is a partner in Shirley & McVicker Public Affairs in Alexandria, Va.