Blair witch-hunt

Hey, come along for the ride. There’s plenty of room on board the “Let’s crucify Rob Blair” bandwagon. Here’s a stone. Aim for his head. Blair, the former NCN weatherman who left Chico for a similar gig on a Las Vegas television station a few months ago, was axed last weekend after an innocent verbal stagger came out as a racial slur. According to the Associated Press, Blair was delivering the extended forecast Saturday morning on KTNV-TV when he said what was interpreted as: “For tomorrow, 60 degrees, Martin Luther Coon King Jr. Day, gonna see some temperatures in the mid-60s.” Blair, in his first apology some 20 minutes later, said he’d mistakenly said Kong. He apologized two more times that day and then got fired. Even his boss, Jim Prather, said Blair “stumbled.” But Prather fired Blair anyway.

A few days later, I talked with reporter Juliet Casey of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She told me she’d heard a taped recording of Blair’s faux pas and said she couldn’t really hear what he’d said. And Steve Friess, a stringer for the Boston Globe, told me Blair sort of tripped over the words King and Junior, which came out sounding like “Kong.” But here’s the killer: The word, whatever it may have been, was uttered on tape, which was then played during one of those “here’s the weather in your neck of the woods” cut-ins on Good Morning America. If Blair said something so outrageous on tape, why was it broadcast? Why didn’t somebody do some editing, if it was so blatant? Doesn’t really matter at this point, of course. Blair is now paying for white America’s collective guilt. I would imagine his career as a TV weatherman is pretty much history. That’s a shame. I know that Blair is much too smart and sophisticated to have said such a thing. Hell, even if he were a raging racist, which I’m pretty sure he’s not, why would he choose to commit professional suicide? It makes no sense.

Now we’ve got all these righteous lefties out there wringing their hands, acting sad and overwhelmed and lamenting via e-mail that “the more things change the more they stay the same.” These are the wear-it-like jewelry lefties who hope their obvious sensitivity will help them meet chicks. Based on their reactions, you’d have thought Blair blew up a church in Birmingham. Here’s one more thing: Blair’s gay, which means, I would assume, that he is keenly aware of slander and the sting of ugly words. Not that gays can’t be racists and vice-versa. Still, the word “coon” is reserved for use by an especially appalling variety of bigot.

About 15 years ago, around this time of year, I was with someone in Carson City, Nev., sitting in the bar of a pretty fancy restaurant. There we were, making small talk with the bartender, when she said something about “Martin Luther Coon Day.” Imagine that. That word used in that context and blurted out to strangers. Apparently the bartender in this fairly upscale restaurant assumed we shared her crude and alarmingly racist sense of humor. We didn’t. Instead we climbed off our bar stools and made our way toward the exit, stopping just long enough to write some choice profanities in the restaurant’s leather-bound guest book. The common denominator here is Nevada. The difference is I heard the word in Carson City, while in Las Vegas certain people thought that maybe they heard the word fall out of Blair’s mouth. But these people held Rob Blair’s future in their hands. These people were unwilling to stand up for the guy. They chose instead to minimize any potential damage to KTNV-TV’s bottom line, leaving their weatherman out in the cold.

What would Dr. King say? Who knows? The memory of King gets hijacked enough these days without some pipsqueak like me speculating. But I do know in New York City on April 4, 1967, he said these words: “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”