by Craig Sailor
(8-6-20) — Tacoma public radio station KNKX dropped weather commentator Cliff Mass on Thursday after the University of Washington meteorology professor compared recent violent incidents during Seattle civil rights protests to Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass,” during the Nazi Germany era.
Mass made the comparison on his immensely popular weather blog Wednesday. Since then, outrage has bellowed across the social media landscape.
KNKX announced Thursday evening it was ending its relationship with Mass immediately.
“ … if a commentator, even on his own independent platform, delivers rhetoric that is offensive and inaccurate, we cannot support it,” the station wrote on its website.
The Nazi-organized Kristallnacht destroyed over 250 synagogues and 7,000 Jewish businesses, cemeteries and homes in 1938. Mass likened the graffiti, smashed windows and threats to public officials of recent Seattle Black Lives Matter protests to Kristallnacht.
“We abhor the comparison and find it sensationalized and misleading — it does not reflect who we are and what we stand for at KNKX,” the station said.
Most of the blog post dealt with Mass’s impressions on a recent walking tour of downtown Seattle where some businesses remain boarded up and where he witnessed an alleged drug transaction. He had harsh criticism for Seattle leadership and Gov. Jay Inslee.
“Seattle citizens had every right to express strong views in public about their concerns for our nation’s Black citizens,” Mass said. “But many of the marches and gatherings turned violent and destructive, breaking windows, burning cars, looting stores, and deliberately harming police who tried to restore safety and order.”
Mass later removed the Kristallnacht comparison from the blog and said he was referring only to the violent aspects of the protests. There was some support of Mass’s post but most comments were negative.
“I did not think that my UW colleague Cliff Mass could lower my opinion of my UW colleague Cliff Mass,” wrote UW bilology professor Carl Bergstrom on Twitter. “I was wrong.”
Mass called KNKX’s decision to remove him hasty and based on pressure from a social media “mob.”
“There’s two types of mobs that will undermine civil society,” Mass told The News Tribune Friday afternoon. “One of the mobs does physical violence. They destroy stores and hurt people. And that’s what my blog was about. And then there’s the other mob, a social media mob who cannot tolerate people with a different viewpoint.”
In 2016, Mass was a vocal supporter of KNKX’s successful campaign to buy its way out of Pacific Lutheran University, where it had broadcast for decades as KPLU. The station and its network of 12 broadcast signals across western Washington were coveted by the weaker signaled but better funded Seattle public radio station KUOW.
Before he started delivering his weekly weather segments, “The Weather With Cliff Mass,” with KNKX’s environmental reporter Bellamy Pailthorp, Mass served the same role at KUOW for 15 years.
KUOW and Mass parted ways acrimoniously in 2011 after he veered off topic while on the air. He was complaining about a Seattle Times story on UW student-acceptance practices.
“When I got canned by KUOW, KPLU called the next day,” Mass told The News Tribune in 2013.
Mass is no stranger to controversy. He has downplayed the threat of COVID-19 as media hype and government overreaction.
Some accuse him of being a climate-change denier.
Mass maintains the charge is unfounded.
“(Climate change is) real,” he told The News Tribune in 2013. “Some people exaggerated what’s happened so far. That’s been the big tension. Some people are so concerned about global warming they feel they have to hype what’s already happened. Most of global warming is ahead of us.”
On Friday, Mass said those who oppose his views on climate change almost got him removed from KNKX in May.
“Activists didn’t like what I was saying on my blog, and they thought that that was a reason to kick me off of the radio station,” he said.
KNKX brought in an outside consultant to review Mass’s on-air and off-air work as well as address complaints about him that had been raised in a petition.
“I do not find that Mass’ KNKX weather segment consistently misrepresents climate science, as the petition claimed,” Elizabeth Jensen, a public editor for National Public Radio, concluded in an analysis she conducted for KNKX.
The environmental organization 350 Tacoma celebrated Mass’s dismissal on Thursday.
“We’ve been involved in coalition work over the past year — led by 350 Seattle with 350 Eastside, 350 Everett and 350 Tacoma — to petition KNKX to retire Cliff Mass because of his frequent statements minimizing the urgency of climate science,” the group posted on its website. “We hope that the work we did collectively helped to lay the foundation for today’s decision.”
Mass maintains it’s his right to speak on whatever subject he wants to on his personal blog.
“If you see something that’s profoundly wrong, you should act,” he said. “I mean, it obviously would be easier for me to be Mr. Happy Weatherman.”
Mass pointed to the work he’s done, including securing the installation of a crucial weather radar station on the Washington coast, as the good he’s done for the community.
“I’ve worked very hard to improve society and that’s what this is,” he said of his recent blog post.
Mass, who is Jewish, said his background informs his take on society.
“All these terrible things we’re done to my people … and German people stayed silent,” Mass said. “People were afraid to say anything. And no one would intervene.”