The moment has been summarily memed to death by now, so I don’t need to get into too much detail. On July 14, GB News meteorologist John Hammond spoke to the unprecedented heatwave Great Britain was experiencing, and was immediately chided by news anchor Bev Turner for being a downer, and that – essentially – Hammond needed to not make viewers sad and keep the forecasting, however hot it was, light and cheerful. “Truth” by way of “Don’t worry, be happy.”
It was a bizarre moment, seemingly out of a satirical movie. And in fact, less than a year before, a scene just like it was in a satirical movie, Adam MacKay’s Don’t Look Up. In the scene, newscasters played by Cate Blanchette and Tyler Perry criticized scientist Leonardo DiCaprio for speaking of the damage an oncoming meteor strike would do to the earth. The meteor strike is a not-too-subtle stand-in for climate change, by the way (verified by MacKay himself).
None of this is new, but neither is the ongoing schism between the supposed truth-tellers of local news and…truth?
Cut to three years earlier where I am in the Northeast United States. It was the middle of the winter. Prior to this, the top meteorologists had long-cast a record cold season. The Farmer’s Almanac – the document of record when Ouija boards and virgin sacrifices won’t do – also warned the winter ahead would be “a banger” (paraphrased).
Knee deep in this, the area experienced a string of near-to-on-target 70 degree days. The local weathercasters predictably painted this as “such a gift,” and “a marvelous surprise for us,” and on. While this irked me, as did the endless chorale of viewers who reinforced this as a big nothing, tacked with the typical, “But we’ve had warm winters before,” and “this is what normal looks like!,” I couldn’t let the question hang in my mind for too long.
The news is a business. The days of newscasting being partitioned as a public service, uncorrupted by the touch of advertisers are long gone. “Smile and look pretty no matter how ugly the news is” sells toilet paper. People changing the channel away from the “downers” do not.
Here we are at the tail end of August 2022. After a very hot summer, Texas was shook by a massive rainstorm that dumped nearly 15 inches of rain in one day – more than a season’s worth in one go – onto heat-hardened ground. Most of the water failed to soak into the ground, instead rolling off and flooding the Dallas area.
Again in the Northeast U.S., Newark, N.J. experienced more than 40 days of 90-plus degree weather this year. To put it into context, a heatwave is defined as three or more days above 90 degrees in a row. New York City is desperate for rain, and on numerous occasions storm fronts aimed at the tri-state area dissipated to nothing en route. You would expect the local weathercasters to have something to say about it, and they do. It is painful to watch.
The ouroboros or uroboros is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. A loose interpretation could be a self-destructive act or a feat of denialism in the face of circumstantial evidence that contradicts the statements being made.
I bring this up because our weathercasters are being put in this unenviable position of having to tow the “smiles everyone, smiles” party line while at the same time, in the same breath, needing to tear down their own facade. Just this morning, one such forecaster segued directly from the dire situation a local watershed is in – being it can be walked across and is growing grass – into the next four day stretch of weather around or above 90 degrees and dry being “beautiful” and “wonderful” and “get out and enjoy it.” If this sounds uncomfortably like praising the cyanide you will ingest that will kill you, you see why this all is so awkward and cringe-inducing.
You know the weathercasters know the deal. They cannot possibly believe this, the year of our Lord 2022 already on track for being one of the hottest globally in the era of record-keeping, is at all normal or good. And yet, much like our friend John Hammond in the UK or the fictional scientists of Don’t Look Up, they too are being told by those higher up to not break the spell of everything being fine and normal. And so we watch them dance this dance of self-mutilation, crossing bad with good, bone-dry with pleasant, “need rain” with “lovely gift,” and in the end rendering themselves darkly comic and impotent.
Why? Broadcasters big and small need to appeal to the biggest set of eyeballs possible. Even in the age of streaming, content still is not king, but instead advertising. There are plenty of eyeballs who will flip the channel once you, the weathercaster, start saying these abnormally hot days; sudden, excessive pop-up storms; and lake beds now dried and revealing evidence of long covered-up crimes, are a clear indication that climate change is real, not a liberal hoax. These people are not to be informed, challenged, or concerned. They are to remain locked in until the commercial break so that Ford, McDonald’s, Novo Nordisk, or whoever gets their return-on-investment.
In this, the local weathercaster could play an important role in reinforcing the reality of climate change, if only they were allowed to speak the words. You know they know. You can see how they strain to strike that balance between “this is a crisis” and “this is a blessing,” and how in recent weeks that strain has grown more pronounced. They want to speak out, but doing so would surely mean being reassigned to overnight broadcasts, or even being let go for someone who will speak as they are told to.
The depressing but honest takeaway is that if these local voices are not allowed to attempt to change minds, then the few malleable opinions left will not be swayed, there will be no habitual changes, there will be no public dissent against polluting practices, things will get worse, and the replacements will hum the merry tune of “Don’t worry, be happy,” all the more. Ouroboros, indeed.
Is there something the individual can do? Yes – you can call out your local stations on social media. Nearly all of them have Twitter feeds. You can identify the farce that was the GB News debacle. You can say that you expect your weathercasters to speak the truth in the news and not candy-coat the poison pill. You might need to embarrass them, which is unfair for individual forecasters who – as I think I’ve clearly stated – want to be more honest about this. But this isn’t the time for hurt feelings when science reveals we’re past the tipping point and now can only regulate the degree of pain we will receive. Only by indicating that they will lose viewership in mild deception as much as they will in ignorant placation might they change the composition of such reporting.
Or they could end up the next meme, mocked internationally for suppressing truth for a policy of “Good vibes only.” Put that call back on their plates.