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New ‘Jeopardy!’ host Mike Richards apologizes after past sexist comments surface

Newly named “Jeopardy!” host Mike Richards apologized Wednesday evening for sexist comments he made years ago on a podcast.

Richards, who hosted “The Randumb Show” podcast from 2013 to 2014, said in a statement that the podcast was “intended to be a series of irreverent conversations between longtime friends who had a history of joking around.”

“Even with the passage of time, it’s more than clear that my attempts to be funny and provocative were not acceptable, and I have removed the episodes,” he said. “My responsibilities today as a father, husband, and a public personality who speaks to many people through my role on television means I have substantial and serious obligations as a role model, and I intend to live up to them.”

The online media outlet The Ringer reviewed all 41 episodes of “The Randumb Show” — which were reported to be laden with sexist comments about women’s bodies and clothing — before the recordings were pulled offline Tuesday. NBC News has not listened to the original recordings.

Richards said it was “humbling to confront a terribly embarrassing moment of misjudgment, thoughtlessness, and insensitivity from nearly a decade ago. Looking back now, there is no excuse, of course, for the comments I made on this podcast and I am deeply sorry.”

The podcast also featured Richards’ former assistant Beth Triffon and occasionally Jen Bisgrove, the podcast’s producer and Richards’ assistant at the time. It was marketed as an inside look at “The Price is Right” and “Let’s Make a Deal,” for both of which he was an executive producer.

The Ringer characterized the podcast as “freewheeling, skipping between pop culture news, upcoming TV lineups and the latest goings-on at Price. Many [episodes] have a gossipy edge, with Richards displaying a tendency to turn bawdy and sometimes vulgar.”

In an example from Sept. 4, 2014, after the iCloud photo hack of numerous female celebrities, Richards reportedly asked his assistant and co-host whether they had ever taken nude photos.

“When his cohost said that she had sometimes taken photos of herself when she thought she looked cute, Richards responded, ‘Like booby pictures? What are we looking at?’” The Ringer reported. “Later, he asked to go through her phone; when she declined to share an image with him, he asked whether it was ‘of [her] boobies.’”

In a later episode, according to The Ringer, Richards said one-piece bathing suits made women look “frumpy and overweight.”

At other times, he mocked Triffon’s appearance and called her a “derogatory term for little people, a word that he also uses to describe the actress Kristin Chenoweth,” The Ringer reported, adding that he also made “disparaging comments about Triffon’s economic status.”

At one point, Triffon explained that she qualified for $389 per week in unemployment benefits after having lost her job.

“The dangerous side about the crack that you just took is that not everyone is like you. But everyone can collect unemployment, which is why we have so many people on unemployment right now. Which is why we have so many people on food stamps. Because what if you got unemployment and food stamps? You’d be like, ‘Good lord, I’m making—.’ You know what I’m saying?” Richards reportedly told her. “Do you feel dirty? Seriously, and I’m not trying to be mean. Do you feel a little dirty?”

Richards, who was named the new “Jeopardy!” host this month, was previously involved in two discrimination lawsuits.

One was filed by Brandi Cochran, a former model for “The Price is Right,” who said she was fired after she became pregnant. The suit, filed in March 2010, listed the defendants as CBS Corp., CBS Television Network, Fremantle Media and “The Price is Right.”

Richards, who was not listed as a defendant, was accused in the suit of treating Cochran differently after she announced that she was pregnant in late 2008. The case went to trial, and a jury awarded Cochran more than $8 million.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge later overturned the award, and Cochran and the defendants settled out of court, documents show.

In 2011, Lanisha Cole, another “Price is Right” model, sued, and Richards was among the named defendants. However, he was later dropped as a defendant, and the suit was settled in 2013, according to The Daily Beast.

In a recent note to “Jeopardy!” staff members, Richards described the lawsuits as “employment disputes” against “The Price is Right.”

“I want you all to know that the way in which my comments and actions have been characterized in these complaints does not reflect the reality of who I am or how we worked together on The Price is Right,” he wrote.

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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight

House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.

The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.

Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.

“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”

It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.

However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.

Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.

Haley Talbot contributed.

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