Hurricane Irma may have passed, but the blowback on two conservative pundits' skepticism about the hurricanes' danger continues to swirl.
As Irma barreled into Florida over the weekend, columnist Ann Coulter and talk radio host Rush Limbaugh were making an unusual — some said dangerous — counterpoint to the blunt warnings booming out of the state's official offices to “get out now."
Their take: The liberal media had cooked up the storm for ratings, retail sales and politics. Nothing to see here.
Coulter, an author whose latest book is “In Trump We Trust,” took to Twitter suggesting Miami was suffering a "light rain," while Limbaugh said on his radio show liberals — and the media — were exaggerating hurricane severity as a way to increase fears about climate change. "They are the ones using it to advance a political agenda, not me. And all I'm doing is pointing it out," he said.
Critics assailed them as delivering their own waves of disinformation or, at best, poor attempts at humor, ill-conceived when the storm looked likely to take lives and leave millions without power.
Not all of forecasters' warnings came true: the possible Category 5 hurricane hit Florida as a Category 4, then weakened, and Irma tracked differently than expected, navigating up the center of the state, rather than up either the east or west coast.
Regardless, Irma was devastating to communities affected, with a dozen deaths in Florida attributed to the storm so far, and more than two-thirds of the state's 21 million residents without power.
So why the skepticism? The doubts are part of a broader repudiation by conservative pundits — and some lawmakers — that extreme weather is happening, and if it's happening, that it's linked to fossil fuel consumption.
Limbaugh's position is reflective of a "right-wing orthodoxy, which favors doing nothing in response to climate change on the theory it’s all an expensive boondoggle designed to victimize innocent oil and gas companies," Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., a Pulitzer Prize winner, said in a Sept. 9 column.
Also part of the Republican strategy on climate change, he noted, is President Trump's exit from the Paris climate accord and Florida Gov. Rick Scott "forbidding his team to even use the term 'climate change'," Pitts said.
After charging liberals with exaggerating hurricane severity as a way to increase fears about climate change, Limbaugh, who lives in Palm Beach County, Florida, said last Thursday his comments were taken out of context. Then he said he would evacuate and not be on the air until Monday from "parts unknown," because it would be "legally impossible" to broadcast from Florida.
Before Limbaugh left town Al Roker, co-anchor of NBC's “Today,” criticized Limbaugh on Twitter as "putting lives at risk" by saying Hurricane Irma forecasts were "hype."
"To have @rushlimbaugh suggest the warnings about #Irma are #fake or about profit and to ignore them borders on criminal. #ShameOnRush," he tweeted.
Limbaugh talked about climate change and Irma on his show Monday, saying, "My whole point about this was never that it was fake, that the warnings were never fake, that the strength of the hurricane was fake. I never said anything of the sort. I questioned how the media deals with all of this stuff."
Coulter continued Tuesday to tweet about media's coverage of Irma saying, "CNN: Right now, there are people in Florida whose GROCERIES ARE SPOILING."
Not funny, said one responder on Twitter. "When you struggle for every dollar, yes spoiled food and destroyed homes are a big deal!" one said.
This all comes more than two weeks after Harvey had hit Texas and Coulter tweeted that "I don't believe Hurricane Harvey is God's punishment for Houston electing a lesbian mayor. But that is more credible than 'climate change'."
Annise Parker, who served as Houston's mayor from 2010 to 2016 and the first openly GLBT mayor of a major American city, responded three days later on Twitter: "Darn it, I thought no one knew I had a super power over weather."
Parker said it took her some time to respond to Coulter because she was helping run a shelter for hurricane victims for non-profit BakerRipley, where she's chief strategy officer.
Last week, Parker also fired back at Coulter that “you don’t try to deal rationally with stupid," during an interview on SiriusXM Progress' The Michelangelo Signorile Show, the host wrote on HuffPost.
With two hurricanes having recently hit the U.S., and another, Jose, perhaps on the way, the argument over climate change and its effect on the disastrous storms is unlikely to dissipate. Just check Twitter — and the airwaves.
— Associated Press reports were used in this article.