John Coleman, the weatherman at KUSI in San Diego, has by his own rough estimate performed more than a quarter million weathercasts. It is not a stretch to say that he is largely responsible for the shape of the modern weather report. As the first weatherman on ABC’s Good Morning America in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Coleman pioneered the use of the onscreen satellite technology and computer graphics that are now standard nearly everywhere. In 1982 Coleman used his spare time—and media mogul Frank Batten’s money—to launch the Weather Channel. The idea seemed quixotic then, and his tenure as president ended a year later after an acrimonious split with Batten. But time proved Coleman to be something of a genius—by the time NBC Universal bought it in 2008, it had 85 million viewers and a $3.5 billion price tag.
Those were the first two acts of Coleman’s career. On a Sunday night in early November 2007, he sat down at his home computer and started to write the 967 words that would launch the third. “It is the greatest scam in history,” he began. “I am amazed, appalled, and highly offended by it. Global Warming: It is a SCAM.”
What had set him off was a football game. The Eagles were playing the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, and as a gesture of environmental awareness—it was “Green Is Universal” week at NBC Universal—the studio lights were cut for portions of the pregame and halftime shows. Coleman, who had been growing increasingly skeptical about global warming for more than a decade, finally snapped. “I couldn’t take it anymore,” he told me. “I did a Howard Beale.”
Skepticism is, of course, the core value of scientific inquiry. But the essay that Coleman wrote, which was published on the website ICECAP, would have more properly been termed rejectionism. Coleman wasn’t arguing against the integrity of a particular conclusion based on careful original research. Instead, he went after the motives of the scientists. Climate researchers, he wrote, “look askance at the rest of us, certain of their superiority. They respect government and disrespect business, particularly big business. They are environmentalists above all else.”
The Drudge Report picked up Coleman’s essay, and within days its author was a cause célèbre on right-wing talk radio and cable television, beaming into Glenn Beck’s CNN show via satellite to elaborate on the scientists’ conspiracy. “They all have an agenda,” Coleman told Beck, “an environmental and political agenda that says, ‘Let’s pile on here, we’re all going to make a lot of money, we’re going to get research grants, we’re going to get awards, we’re going to become famous.’ ”
Soon Coleman was on the conference circuit, a newly minted member of the loose-knit confederation of professional skeptics. His interviews and speeches that have been posted to YouTube have, in some cases, been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.