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
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.
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."
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
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
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.