CSotD: Clowns, scars and such

Willard Scott was a clown.

If you know anything about the late Today Show weatherman, shown in this tribute from Dave Granlund, you’ll realize that’s simply a statement of fact and not a judgment: He began his career in entertainment as a clown, though his being the first Ronald McDonald is somewhat mythic: He played a clown in ads for a local franchise but never represented the entire company when they took the concept national.


It has since become Accepted Fact, as seen in this morning’s Free Range (Creators), that clowns are scary but they weren’t back in the old days, or, not scary enough to enough of us to make it a thing. Perhaps we were made of sterner stuff.


Or perhaps we had better clowns.

And, okay, saying Willard Scott was a clown before he was a weatherman is indeed judgmental, but, in the previous century, a lot of TV weathermen were clowns, if not in the literal sense.

I don’t know that there was ever a time in the television era when you couldn’t do your own weather predicting. Back in the ’63-’64 school year, I took Earth Science and we got a fresh map from the gov’t in the mail each morning with the pressures and conditions and trends around the country. At 13 and 14, we did a pretty fair job of predicting the next day’s weather.

But even 20 years later, very few TV weathermen bothered to do their own predicting nor knew how. The job went to a genial old duffer who ripped the prediction off the wire service machine, mirrored the Weather Service map by putting H’s and L’s and suns and raindrops and pointy lines and bumpy lines on a felt board and then read off whatever was on the TelePrompter.

Our weatherman was also in charge of scheduling national ads for toothpaste, cereal or whathaveyou, while another station in the market had a fellow renowned for showing up hungover and wearing sloppy jeans below his jacket and tie, growling “Nothin’ below the waist tonight, boys.”

Nice enough guys, but, in terms of meteorology, clowns, in an era when the news itself was being reported by actual journalists, often with a minimum of charisma but a maximum of reporting chops.

Some time in the 80s/90s, however, local TV turned to what was nicknamed the Happy Talk format, which featured cheerful, telegenic people chatting with each other as they introduced whatever mayhem, disaster and adoptable puppies were in the news.

I am not being a wiseass in saying that a fair number of people who might earlier have majored in drama instead majored in Mass Comm, a watered-down version of journalism that turned them into TV anchors and reporters.

Dave Barry’s description became a classic among the folks behind the cameras:

Meanwhile, the role of the weatherman — now a weatherperson — had gone the opposite direction.

I gave the morning weatherperson a ride to a middleschool career day we were both slotted for. She was on her second job, so probably about 23 or 24, and, as we rode the half hour to the school, she told me she had a bachelor’s in some science plus a master’s in meteorology.

It occurred to me that, when she was predicting — not just “reading” — the weather, she was probably the only person on the set with a master’s degree in anything, much less in something involving mathematics and numbers and estimates rather than learning to say “See you next time” instead of “See you next week.”

Despite that, the meteorologist is still not considered a journalist, so is ethically able to represent the station at county fairs and ribbon cuttings and such. After I left the newsroom to do educational services, I became that guy for the paper and so got to know the local evening weather guy pretty well.

He was good company when we’d be standing around waiting for the mayor.

BA in economics, graduate work in meteorology, never uses a TelePrompter. He’s no clown.


Bruce Plante is one of the first out of the gate with a 9/11 anniversary cartoon, and we’ll cover that later this week, but his depiction seems particularly thought-provoking.

We were scarred, and people compared it to Pearl Harbor for good reason: In both cases, we had watched similar things happen in other countries on other continents and somehow felt immune.

Terrorist attacks happened in places like Spain and Northern Ireland and the Middle East. We’d see it on the news and tsk-tsk over the shame of it all, secure in the knowledge that terrorism was something that happened to Other People, never to us.


Or at least, not here. David Horsey had drawn this cartoon a year earlier, in 2000, as the government tried to frame a response to the attack on the USS Cole, but, frightening and upsetting as that was, it had happened in the Gulf, not here.

Nor, for some reason, had the Oklahoma City bombing prepared us for being targeted at home. We hadn’t seen that as terrorism, though nobody explained why it wasn’t.

So, yes, 9/11 gave us a scar we probably should have had earlier.

It can happen here, and eventually, inevitably, it did.

Small world, isn’t it?


Juxtaposition of the Day

(Non Sequitur – AMS)


(Cathy Wilcox)

These two fall under the category of things we wish we could wish for, but that we really can’t.

The irony is that the sense of decency and ethics that motivates people to get vaccinated and to wear their masks is the same sense of decency and ethics that drives us, when faced with someone who is in peril for having failed to do either, to help them instead of turning our backs.

David Frum frames the frustration well in this Atlantic essay, in which he admits that decent people don’t abandon others, but points out that the reason the pandemic was not over by Labor Day is entirely political, not scientific:

He doesn’t offer a solution, but he does explain and justify the fury that motivates Wiley Miller and Cathy Wilcox to propose theirs.

Victor Hugo offered the most moral solution, but it’s sure one that is hard to pull off.


2 thoughts on “CSotD: Clowns, scars and such

  1. I read in a bio once that David Letterman, during his time as a local weatherman in Indiana, told his viewers to expect “hailstones the size of canned hams.”

  2. I grew up in the Tampa, Florida area, and the best I remember all of the local television stations had meteorologists reporting the weather. Maybe that was because we had so much weather, being surrounded on three sides by water.

    Tampa is in the top five cities in the U.S. for thunderstorms, and of course we had hurricanes and tornadoes as well.

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