Pat Sajak sparks Twitter backlash with "unpatriotic racists" comment on climate change

Last Updated May 21, 2014 8:50 PM EDT

"Wheel of Fortune" host Pat Sajak is trying to extinguish the firestorm he sparked on Twitter earlier this week with a tweet about climate change.

It all began with a tweet taking aim at "global warming alarmists" -- calling them "unpatriotic racists."

More than 1,800 people "favorited" the tweet, and more than 2,000 have retweeted it, a small fraction of his more than 54,000 followers. While his supporters loved it, the tweet also sparked an immediate backlash.

Salon.com posted an article blasting Sajak for "throwing wild allegations of racism against the overwhelming majority of scientists." The post noted that Sajak has written a series of blog posts for a conservative website called Human Events. One of the articles was titled, "Opposed to Obamacare? Then You Must be a Racist."

In another of the posts, he said he is a "Conservative Republican delighted with the disarray on the Democratic side." Many conservatives have depicted climate change as a ruse created by liberals and alarmists.

In a Human Events post from 2007, Sajak offered the clearest indication of his thoughts on climate change and the debate that surrounds it.

"The subject of man-made global warming is almost impossible to discuss without a descent into virulent name-calling (especially on the Internet, where anonymity breeds a special kind of vicious reaction to almost any social or political question), but I'll try anyway."

The post went on to list his 10 questions surrounding climate change. He admitted to being "on the skeptical side" on the matter, but did not say he overtly denies it.

Since the time of that post in 2007, scientists have provided more evidence that climate change is man-made and that its impact is already being felt around the globe. Of course, there is still a cadre of deniers.

So should Sajak's tweet be taken as an indication that he has continued studying the matter, finally made up his mind, and decided to join the name-calling?

Well, no. His spokesman tells CBS News it was just a joke.

In a statement issued Wednesday evening, Sajak said, "Of course I was joking. Just mocking the name-calling that is directed at global warming skeptics within and without the scientific community."

Looking at other tweets in his Twitter feed, it's obvious that Sajak doesn't always take things too seriously. In the past week, he's posted humorous comments on issues ranging from the Tooth Fairy to the debate between paper or plastic, and presidential birth certificates.

In April, he also announced his heterosexuality in a tweet that caught the attention of the sites Queerty.com and NewNowNext.com.

And then there's this...

The Twitter controversy calls to mind the recent turmoil surrounding Stephen Colbert. On March 27, one of the social media managers for his Comedy Central show, "The Colbert Report," quoted a line from an on-air segment. Taken out of context, some interpreted it as racist.

Within minutes, the hashtag "#CancelColbert" started trending. It continued trending for nearly 36 hours. Colbert addressed the critics during his next show on March 31.

"Folks, I'm still here," he said, pointing directly at the camera. "The dark forces trying to silence my message of core conservative principles mixed with youth friendly product placement have been thwarted," he said, before airing an entire segment titled "Who's Attacking Me Now?"

The Colbert controversy blew over after he addressed it, mainly because Colbert reminded the audience that he said it in comedic character, as part of a segment criticizing the owner of the Washington Redskins NFL franchise over insensitivity to Native Americans.

Sajak posted a clue that suggests he's enjoying the uproar.

What will Sajak give us next? If this is any indication, it's sure to keep the debate going.

His tweet has also inspired humor from at least one former fan of Sajak's TV show.

"No more Wheel of Fortune in my house, I can tell you that," wrote blogger Greg Laden, who suggested a new puzzle for the show:

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    Danielle Elliot is a freelance science editor and reporter for CBS News. She holds an M.A. in science and health journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. in broadcast journalism from the University of Maryland. Follow her on Twitter - @daniellelliot.

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