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the weather's not the biggest problem

first things first: i hope that, if you're reading this and you were in the path of any part of hurricane/ tropical storm irene, that you made it through safely and without the loss of anything important to you.

 irene didn't look like this, but it could have
second, i really hope [although i'm not stupid, so i know it's not going to happen] that news organisations like cnn [i know fox was worse, but no one really expects any real journalism from them anyway, right?] take the opportunity on monday morning to issue a big, fat apology to their viewers about the nature of their coverage.

seriously. what were you guys thinking?

i do remember back in 2005, having my cynical mind blown by the coverage of hurricane katrina, while the powers that were tried to pretend like it was no big deal [and, now that i think of it, that included fox news]. i saw anderson cooper's fabled meltdown at mary landrieu live and wondered what had possessed the media that they'd suddenly located their collective testicles. but now, every time a storm threatens any part of the continental united states, i get this uncomfortable feeling, not just because i think that there are a lot of people in the media who'd prefer a disaster [we've known that for years], but because the increasingly hysterical coverage is now actually interfering with people getting the information they need to stay safe. [i'll say that the one piece of information i did have was the time when the new york subway system was shutting down. that i knew. it was approximately five hours earlier than the time people were to have evacuated low-lying areas of the city.]

amidst the various shots of correspondents standing in the rain [which is in itself a mixed message], there was precious little information being conveyed about where people anywhere along the storm's path should go, who they should call, what web sites they should check or anything that might be of any use to people not comfortably ensconced as observers. to be fair, i like to think that local networks might have offered more coverage of this, but that still doesn't excuse the fact that on networks like cnn, a 24-hour news network that was covering no other story for the last two days, there was nothing being communicated save the repeated exhortations that people along the eastern seaboard should be afraid.

this is serious business...
i agree that a certain level of fear and respect for the awesome power that nature can unleash is important in such situations. but so is the ability to think clearly and plan properly and as far as i could tell from the news coverage i was seeing, people seeking help in those departments were pretty much on their own. tales of ravaged homes and destruction were everywhere, but, strangely, information on the actual dangers posed by storms of this magnitude [like the danger of electrocution from downed power lines] was absent.

of course, irene fell far short of its advance billing as the storm of the century. as it happened, while it originally looked like many major metropolitan centres were at risk, most of them ended up getting off relatively lightly. the media looks a little ridiculous, which has been known to happen, but what's worse is that people have lost just a little bit more trust in the reliability of the information they receive. short term, that means nothing. long term, it means that the next time a potential killer storm, or fire, or man-made disaster is causing hysteria in the media's ranks, that the people most at risk are going to be a little less inclined to take those warnings seriously, which could have profound implications the next time a politician has to use that media to persuade people to leave their homes because they might be in danger.

good luck with that, guys...


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