A Sad Way to Go

No one ever wants to speak ill of the dead, but what happens when the dead have spoken ill of themselves?

John Coleman, the “Good Morning America” forecasting icon who co-founded The Weather Channel, died [last] Saturday.

The 83-year-old Coleman, in his later years, may have become best known for championing skepticism about the human role in climate change.

Considered a pioneer in weathercasting, Coleman enjoyed a 60-year career in television. He worked at stations in Peoria, Omaha, Milwaukee and Chicago from the 1950s to early 1970s. He was seen as an innovator, the first to broadcast his entire weathercast in front of a green screen…

Over the past 15 years, Coleman became a vocal doubter of human contributions to climate change and opposed actions to address the challenge. As recently as December 2017, he wrote, “There is no significant man-made global warming at this time, there has not been any in the past and there is no reason to fear any in the future.”

Coleman’s stance on climate change was far out of step with mainstream science. In 2014, the Weather Channel distanced itself from its founder on the issue. “[H]e hasn’t been with us in 31 years,” said then-chief executive David Kenny on CNN. “So he’s not really speaking for the Weather Channel in any way today.”

Reading Coleman’s various obituaries, I was struck by a great sadness that a man who had accomplished so much in his life spent the final years of that life disinforming the American people by parroting the official Republican line on climate; it’s a bit of a surprise that Donald Trump didn’t make him his science adviser. Coleman’s legacy is as tarnished as that of Michael Crichton, the bestselling novelist and filmmaker whose last major act prior to his death a decade ago was the publication of an borderline-unreadable novel, State of Fear, that smeared climate scientists and climate activists as alarmists. (Of course, George F. Will and George W. Bush loved the book.)

Do some of our most prominent right-wing figures ever think about how they’ll be remembered when they pass on? Does Ann Coulter ever think about the first lines of her obituary? Does Rush Limbaugh? Does Sean Hannity? Or do they only care about the obituaries that will be written in conservative-leaning newspapers?

Barry Goldwater‘s racist opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act tore this country apart and, in many respects, paved the way for the likes of Trump, but somewhere along the line, even he understood that he didn’t want to die being regarded as a national and international villain. After he passed away two decades ago, the New York Times observed that at least on some issues, Goldwater was willing to knock over the proverbial basket of deplorables:

[W]hen the Republicans captured the Senate in the Reagan landslide in 1980, he took on a more active role. He led the 1981 Senate fight for confirmation of a fellow Arizonan, Sandra Day O’Connor, as the first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court. When Jerry Falwell, head of the Moral Majority, was quoted (inaccurately) as saying that every good Christian should be concerned about her because of abortion, he responded “Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass.”…

In his last years in the Senate, Goldwater was often critical of Republicans. Noting the budget deficits that were ballooning during Reagan’s Presidency, he said, “Had I been in Reagan’s place, this country never would have gone $3 trillion in debt.”

Goldwater was skeptical of military weapons spending, and he wrote a resolution condemning the C.I.A. for keeping the mining of Nicaraguan harbors secret from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

He fought proposals to pass laws limiting the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court because of dissatisfaction with its decisions. When the New Right criticized him on that position, he responded, “If they don’t like it, to hell with them.” And in 1989, he labeled the followers of Pat Robertson in Arizona “a bunch of kooks.”

But probably no stand, not even his endorsement of Karan English, a Democratic Congressional candidate in 1992, stirred so much unhappiness among his onetime allies than his view of homosexuality.

The next year, when Clinton was fighting opposition from the military to his campaign promise to end discrimination against homosexuals in the armed forces, the former Senator supported him. “You don’t need to be ‘straight’ to fight and die for your country,” he wrote in in a letter to the Washington Post. “You just need to shoot straight.”

It’s straight shooting, not the denigration of the deceased, to say that Coleman, like Crichton before him, spent his last days lying about the most pressing issue facing humanity today. How many other right-wingers will pass away being remembered by those outside of their fanbase as some of the most divisive voices in American history? How many of them ever think about their legacy?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.