Ken Jennings, Jeopardy! interim host and presumptive heir to Alex Trebek, has not had the best week online. Just before New Year’s Eve, the champion apologized for old, insensitive tweets—including a six-year-old post in which he wrote, “Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair.” And on Sunday, Jennings attempted to defend his podcast host, John Roderick—whose Twitter nickname is now “Bean Dad” thanks to a bizarre and controversial anecdote that some have labeled child abuse, and whose own bad tweets have also surfaced.
Over the weekend Roderick shared a long anecdote in which he said his nine-year-old daughter told him she was hungry, and he responded by telling her to make baked beans—only to react with horror when he realized he’d never taught her how to use a can opener. Rather than help his child prepare the meal, he made her struggle with the device alone for six hours in what he called a “Teaching Moment”—a process he noted involved “tears” and his daughter “collaps[ing] in a frustrated heap.”
As The Hollywood Reporter notes, some Twitter users dubbed the ordeal “child abuse.” Roderick defended himself, writing, “Somehow my story about teaching my daughter how to work out how to use a can opener and overcome her frustration got over onto a version of twitter where I’m being accused of child abuse. It’s astonishing. My kid is fine everybody.” He added: “The best part about being ratio'd by these parenting concern-trolls is that they keep harping on how depriving my kid of baked beans for SIX HOURS is child abuse. Six hours is the length of time between meals. Lunch at noon, dinner at six. They’re literally saying CHILD ABUSE.” He has since deleted his account.
But the controversy also led some on social media to surface other, more concerning posts from Roderick—posting screenshots that, as THR notes, included anti-Semitic messages and defenses of using racist and homophobic slurs.
Jennings, who co-hosts the podcast Omnibus with Roderick, initially joked about the writer-musician’s “Bean Dad” fiasco, tweeting, “Extremely jealous and annoyed that my podcast co-host is going to be a dictionary entry and I never will.”
“If this reassures anyone,” he added, “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 ten podcasts a week. This site is so dumb.”
When confronted about Roderick’s “weird anti-Semitic shit,” Jennings responded, “If we're word-searching through old tweets now, it's pretty easy to find what he actually thinks about anti-Semitism. On our show, he's always the pro-Israel one!” He later added that “there’s no axis where any anti-Semitic screenshot represents any actual opinion I’ve ever heard from him.”
But many on social media were far from placated—especially given that Jennings has apologized for his own misguided posts in a thread that some considered sincere and others branded a PR maneuver as he eyes Trebek’s old hosting job.
On Wednesday Jennings wrote, “Hey, I just wanted to own up to the fact that over the years on Twitter, I've definitely tweeted some unartful and insensitive things. Sometimes they worked as jokes in my head and I was dismayed to see how they read on screen.”
He continued: “In the past, I'd usually leave bad tweets up just so they could be dunked on. At least that way they could lead to smart replies and even advocacy. Deleting them felt like whitewashing a mistake.”
“But I think that practice may have given the impression I stand by every failed joke I've ever posted here. Not at all!” he added. (He apologized, for instance, for the wheelchair tweet in 2018.) “Sometimes I said dumb things in a dumb way and I want to apologize to people who were (rightfully!) offended,” Jennings wrote. “It wasn't my intention to hurt anyone, but that doesn't matter: I screwed up, and I'm truly sorry.”
“If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that we should be kinder to one another,” Jennings concluded. “I look forward to heading into 2021 with that in mind.”
A representative for Sony and Jeopardy! did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.