Wednesday, September 21, 2005

New Hurricane -- same issues

Last month, the night before Hurricane Katrina rolled into New Orleans, I ruminated a bit about Hurricanes and the Media.

I tried to explain the fascination reporters have with Hurricanes:

Try to think of any other disaster that gives you two or three days notice. Wouldn’t the press be camped out, if they knew when the next earthquake or tornado was going to strike. For that matter, if they had a heads up on a plane crash wouldn’t they be at the airport waiting? (Actually, some media were on hand for a crash in Sioux City Iowa in 1989, after hearing about an aircraft in trouble)

Low and behold tonight, on both Fox and CNN we not only had coverage of Rita’s relentless churn toward Galveston or someplace near by, but we had wall to wall coverage of a Jet Blue aircraft that had landing gear trouble.

Made for television. Of course, gawker that I am, there was no turning off the tube, in fact I fired up two so I could watch them both side by side.

It was good television. I wasn’t sure for a moment that the anchors would shut up in time for me to watch the landing unfettered by their noise. But we had a picture perfect landing, for the entire world to see. All was safe, and all was right with the world for the moment. No word on whether there will be an aftermath of blame following the landing, I’m not sure I want to know.

There is something awkwardly compelling about live television coverage of a – near disaster. It’s one of the reasons I watch the NASCAR races on television. I’m never interested in the tape delayed or replay of the race. I’m watching for more basic human entertainment, for that it must be live, and there must be uncertainty as to what will happen.

Rita rolls toward Texas. That, too, is compelling TV. The outcome is uncertain, the danger is real, and lives are at stake.

As I said in a post a couple of days before Katrina hit,

There is a point in the approach of a hurricane when you must simply live with your decision to stay. At that crucial point, you can no longer do anything but sit and wait. It is a helpless feeling. One I will never forget.When the wind howls and the rain pounds, there is little you can do. When timbers begin to crack, and glass begins to rattle, you simply move to a sturdier part of the house (if there is one).

Adding at the end:

Life and death decisions are already being made, while the Katrina is still many miles out to sea.

In the case of Rita, all indications are that the decisions being made today by those on the Texas Gulf Coast – are the right ones.