VIEW FROM THE MARINA: TV's Hurricane Coverage
View from the Marina
TV’s Hurricane “Coverage”
By Barb Hansen
August 1, 2005
Hurricanes are deadly serious. And, for the most part, television weather coverage does a commendable job of letting us know where and when to expect the big winds and waves. So why does so much of TV’s hurricane coverage make us want to laugh?
Vic and I have been especially suspicious of TV’s hurricane coverage ever since Dan Rather reported on Hurricane Andrew from the wrong coast. While Florida’s East Coast was getting blasted, Dan positioned himself in beautiful weather on the West Coast and told people how bad it was going to get. But it never did. The damage was confined to the Miami-Homestead area.
The Weather Channel’s motto is “Live by it.” But often it seems that what they really want us to do is live in fear by it. Fear sells. Fear keeps you at home in front of the TV set. TV news’ mantra is if it bleeds, it leads. So, bleeding or not, they want you to think wolves are at the doorstep.
Be afraid, they say. Be very afraid. We could all be killed. But don’t panic. TV’s problem is that the placid waves and light winds shown on the TV screen don’t match the antics and false alarms sounded by their reporters. Don’t they realize people out there in TV land are chuckling?
I applaud the new TV newsroom technologies that show precisely where the winds and rain are heaviest, right down to the neighborhood. I like it when they list the shelters open, schools closed, and things to buy and things to do. But when they send their crews on the road, all the channels become the comedy channel. Even Jay Leno cracks jokes about it.
To honor the best performances, I recently founded the Academy of Boob Tube Hurricane Coverage. Nominations for the 2005 awards are now open.
Best actor in a leading role. My nomination goes to the national cable anchor reporting on Hurricane Emily from the Florida Panhandle for the best ad lib. …That was intense. Ohmigod, the aluminum sign is blowing this way. No, it’s going the other way. Watch out, watch out, we could all be killed. Somebody should get that sign under control before it kills me.
Best screenplay. Here we had "team coverage" where one reporter screen-played in a parking lot during a light rain. He ran from puddle to puddle saying, "you can see the water beginning to pool here.” Another time I saw a reporter standing on the beach, pants rolled up, the waves less than a foot high saying, "the waves appear to be building."
Best costuming. This year all the nominations are for 20-something-year-old blonde female reporters wearing lots of makeup and fashionable expense-account rain slickers…but no rain hat.
Best visual effects. A morning talk show weather personality stood on a Panhandle beach reporting on a TV video truck laying on its side. I thought TV was supposed to cover the news, not make it.
Best foreign language program. Have you noticed that it is no longer good enough to call it a hurricane. Now, it’s a “hurricane event.” And, the hurricane is not going to affect this or that area, it is going to “impact” it. The Weather Channel tells us where “impacts” will be felt.
Best unoriginal script. Vic and I listen for clichés and we are never disappointed. Batten down the hatches. Hunker down. It’s raining cats and dogs, folks. It’s just a matter of time. Packing horrific winds. Making landfall. Path of destruction. Area of combat. We give each other a there-they-go-again smile.
I’d give a real award to somebody for the television technologies that give us early warnings and dramatic real time radar and satellite pictures. There’s no need for the reporters to stage or exaggerate the news. Timely on location reports speak for themselves.
Hurricanes are serious. Unfortunately, most TV coverage from the scene is just plain frivolous.