The Iowa meteorologist who quit after death threats got nice e-mails, too
He just didn’t get them until after he resigned—and if he'd gotten more sooner, he says, he may have stayed.
When Chris Gloninger found out that not everyone in Iowa hated hearing about climate change, the feeling was bittersweet.
He already announced he was quitting his job as chief meteorologist and weather reporter for CBS affiliate KCCI in Des Moines, in part because of the “vicious” and “cruel” messages he was consistently receiving—including a barrage from a man who threatened to show up at his house and kill him.
“The vulgar, awful, cruel things people said; it was shocking,” Gloninger told HEATED in a recent interview, where he recounted his experiences attempting to weave climate science into his weather coverage in a deeply conservative area of the country. Glonginger had been hired specifically for that purpose—but in two years, he’d received little positive response.
Fearing a drop in ratings, the station asked Gloninger to limit his climate coverage, which he says he refused to do. So the negative responses kept pouring in, and eventually, last month, Gloninger resigned, citing PTSD and family health issues. The announcement drew coverage from nearly every major news outlet in the country.
But though the station and Glonginger hadn’t known it, hundreds of people had indeed appreciated the climate information in their forecasts. After Gloninger announced his departure, he received 262 e-mails—all reviewed by HEATED—from viewers expressing positive feedback for his work.
"It was unbelievable,” he said. “I realized I was maybe wrong in the sense that people weren't watching.”
From the e-mails, Gloninger learned that the people who liked his climate coverage weren’t activist types. “The average person at home who wanted to learn was appreciating it, and they just weren't inclined to write,” he said. “Because when you like something, typically you don't follow up with feedback, versus if you hate something, you're going to push back.”
I asked Gloninger if he had received that type of support while he was on-air, if the outcome would have been different; if he might have stayed.
“One million percent,” he said. “One million percent.”
If people who enjoyed his climate coverage had matched the energy of those who hated it, Glonginger said, he would have had a stronger case to make to his superiors—and to himself—that the negativity was worth enduring.
“This is my call to action for everyone who wants to see more climate coverage on local news,” he said. “If you hear somebody talking about climate change, follow them. Call the station. Write in. Do what what the 11 percent [of climate deniers] are really good at doing, because there are people doing it, and when you get that satisfaction and gratitude from people, more people would be encouraged to do it. Less people would be afraid to talk about it.”
He added that, if people want to see more local news reporters and meteorologists connect climate change to extreme weather, they have to actually watch local news, and become a part of the community they want to influence.
“It’s ingrained in older folks and people like you and I [journalists], but the younger generation doesn’t,” he said. “They can be climate activists as much as they want, but if they're not helping support people that are trying to communicate it, then it's a losing battle.”
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More notable points from our interview:
Though Gloninger is gone, KCCI meteorologists still need support. "I got to hire my weather team, and I hired this meteorologist Trey Fulbright out of Iowa State University. He’s the first Black meteorologist in the market, which is really cool. I got to kind of mentor him right out of school, and he's carrying that torch. He’s incorporating climate change into his weathercasts, into his tweets, into his posts on Facebook and his blogs. I couldn't be more proud of him. And honestly, he has a bigger target on his back than I do as a white guy.”
Television reporters also need support to cover environmental justice—even in liberal markets. “When I was a meteorologist in Boston, I covered climate change all the time. But I never really got pushback until I started talking about environmental justice. That was like grabbing the third rail … People are like, ‘Oh, you have to bring in the race card.’ I'm like, ‘Well, it's important if you know the bigger picture of climate change.’ But that's where people were most uncomfortable.”
For Gloninger, the positive e-mails indicate that conservative markets aren’t lost. “It doesn't really get more conservative than Iowa anymore. I mean, the state took such a hard turn to the right. If you talk to locals, they’ll say the shift has been monumental. But we still got all this positive feedback. So I think that if you're telling creative stories, there is opportunity in there.”
Another big obstacle Gloninger sees toward climate reporting on television? Self-obsessed reporters. “There are people who are there because they just like being on TV, which is sad. … This is an ego-driven industry where people just want to be liked. And I know it's a ratings-driven business. But there's also room to tell an accurate story and be good journalists without worrying about rocking the boat. It really is just bullshit.”
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