The devastation that Hurricane Bob wrought on Chris Gloninger‘s hometown of Sag Harbor, New York left a lasting impression on the then-second grader.
From his family’s home in the small village located on eastern Long Island, Gloninger bore witness to a hurricane that ultimately claimed 18 lives and caused potentially billions of dollars in damage, becoming one of the most catastrophic in New England’s history.
The experience was as enlightening as it was sobering for a young Gloninger, who saw firsthand the severe toll that extreme weather can have on humankind.
It’s why late in his career as a meteorologist, Gloninger began making it a point to regularly educate his audience about the effects of climate change — an interest he maintained when he joined Des Moines, Iowa’s CBS affiliate KCCI in 2021.
But Gloninger’s coverage of what has become a highly-politicized topic drew the ire of some of the station’s viewership, eventually crescendoing last summer in a death threat. The vitriol Gloninger received is partly what attributed to his decision to depart from the station next month, ending an 18-year career in meteorology, Gloninger told USA TODAY on Thursday.
Gloninger, 38, announced the decision on Twitter on Wednesday, and the news was first reported by the Des Moines Register, part of the USA TODAY Network. His last day will be July 7.
“It took months of soul searching, conversations with my wife and I, and figuring out what the best plan was,” Gloninger said. “I’m going to miss TV for sure … I’m blessed to have had a supportive station not just at a local level but at a national level.”
‘There are a lot of Iowans who appreciate it’
Gloninger said he will next join consulting organization Woods Hole Group as a senior scientist, where he will remain focused on climate change and providing risk communication with communities as they prepare for its effects. The move will require Gloninger and his wife to move to Massachusetts, where he said he can be closer to his aging parents.
Gloninger, a graduate of Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, said he first began providing dedicated news reports about climate change and global warming in 2019 while working as a weekend meteorologist in Boston. For two years, he hosted and produced a weekly series of two-and-a-half hour specials covering the havoc wreaked by climate change across the planet.
When he joined KCCI in July 2021 as a chief meteorologist, he continued his coverage of the growing climate crisis, relating for viewers how it manifested in the Des Moines area. For instance, when smoke drifting across the United States earlier in June caused air quality issues across the country, Gloninger said he sought to inform viewers not only about whether their air was safe to breath, but how the fire was fueled by Earth’s violently changing weather.
“There’s no question people did like it, and there are a lot of Iowans who appreciate it,” Gloninger said.
Threats over climate change coverage:What to know about KCCI meteorologist Chris Gloninger’s exit after ‘death threat,’ PTSD
‘I embrace the pushback’
However, not all were fans of Gloninger’s coverage. Knowing that climate change had become a hot-button issue primarily among many on the right who deny its existence, Gloninger anticipated — even welcomed — criticism from viewers, with whom he attempted to engage in a constructive way when he’d receive less-than-friendly emails.
“Since it wasn’t covered much here beforehand, I wasn’t surprised,” Gloninger said. “Just because it’s a topic that may be politicized, it’s science, so I do embrace the pushback.”
But last June, Gloninger began exchanging emails with a man from Lenox, Iowa whose string of vitriolic messages accusing the meteorologist of being a liberal conspiracy theorist and a “Biden puppet” became increasingly concerning. The man eventually pled guilty in August to misdemeanor harassment for sending the threatening messages and incurred a $105 fine in the Iowa District Court for Polk County, according to a criminal complaint.
On June 24, three days after they exchanged their first emails, the man asked: “What’s your address, we conservative Iowans would like to give you an Iowan welcome you will never forget, kinda like the libtards gave JUDGE KAVANAUGH!!!!!!!”
‘Everything is political’
The message was interpreted as a death threat given its apparent reference to a California man who was charged with attempted murder for showing up with a gun and other weapons near the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh earlier that month.
Gloninger is far from the only one in the journalism industry in the United States and across the world who has experienced threats of some sort. And some of the hatred has even become deadly.
In 2022, 67 journalists and media members were killed globally — an increase of 50% from 2021 and the highest number recorded since 2018, according to a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which has tracked journalist killings since 1992. In the United States, Jeff German, a veteran investigative reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, was stabbed to death at his Las Vegas home in September allegedly by an elected official who the reporter had published investigative articles about.
Such deadly violence against journalists is fortunately rare in the United States, but Katherine Jacobsen of the Committee to Protect Journalists fears that it’s becoming all too common for reporters to be exposed to threatening messages. The proliferation of misinformation campaigns — which often amplify outrage over hot-button issues — has made it difficult, Jacobsen said, for legitimate news organizations to deliver accurate information to a public disinclined to believe it.
“There’s this sense that it’s OK to send these vitriolic messages to reporters, not understanding they’re real humans doing their jobs and trying to do the best the can to keep the public informed,” said Jacobsen, the organization’s program coordinator for the U.S. and Canada. “Everything is politicized in this country in a way that makes it very, very difficult to say that there’s a beat safe from this backlash.”
The negative emails Gloninger received had a cumulative effect on his mental health, leaving lingering trauma that he said he’s still processing. While he doesn’t begrudge anyone having opposing views — even, he said, if they’re not supported by evidence — it’s when those views lead to threats of violence that he becomes concerned for himself and anyone in the news industry who simply hope to inform the public.
“I don’t judge anybody, and I don’t judge someone’s upbringing and their beliefs,” Gloninger said. “I just hope and pray for kindness, even if you don’t agree with someone’s views.”
Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricLagatta.