Weathercasters have long held a special place on our local news teams. Culturally, they are perhaps best known for inaccurate forecasts and questionable fashion statements. To the untrained eye, it may seem that their only job requirements are neon smiles and a working knowledge of how to place cartoon graphics of altostratus clouds.
Hollywood has often portrayed weather reporters in a less than favorable light to match this mainstream image, with notable showings by Nicole Kidman, Bill Murray, Nicolas Cage, Will Farrell, and Steve Martin. And our most memorable blundering fictitious weather specialists sometimes cross over into reality. This was the case when American Idol promoted the show by sending contestants to do the weather at Fox affiliates in their hometowns. Does anyone really need to know much of anything about the weather in order to talk about it?
Stephen Colbert didn’t need to ask that question directly last month when his Colbert Report took on a recent study on TV weather forecasters’ views on global warming. Instead the show managed to poke fun at the TV weather business by calling attention to the results of the study, in which university researchers found that, unlike the overwhelming majority of climatologists, half of those who deliver weather news on TV question the existence of global warming.
Colbert promised and delivered a “science catfight.” In one corner was Brenda Ekwurzel of the Union of Concerned Scientists, representing climatologists. In the other was Joe Bastardi of AccuWeather, a TV weather forecaster.
Cobert's twisted genius in offering humor and information simultaneously, a cornerstone of his program, teaches as it entertains. By cartoonishly agreeing with scientific inaccuracy, he subverts an uninformed message that could otherwise confuse the average viewer. Laughter and entertainment can perhaps be more effective than any press release or university study in reaching an otherwise indifferent audience that may not get exposed to public policy issues in other ways.