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Cue the storm – errr, earthquake

Posted By Barbara Simpson On 08/28/2011 @ 9:00 pm In Commentary | Comments Disabled

As I write, the East Coast is bracing for the worst nature can deliver – wind, rain, flooding, destruction and death.

As I write, the media are whipped into their usual frenzy predicting all of the above-mentioned mayhem and more.

As you read this however, we’ll all know whether those dire predictions came to pass. We’ll know whether the extraordinary evacuations, shutdown of transportation systems, bridge and airport closures and more by local and state governments were warranted

They even shut down Atlantic City gaming!

What is the matter with those people!?! If you were about to be blown away by a storm, wouldn’t you rather go out shooting craps at a casino table?! At least you’d have a smile on face!

The truth is, every time there’s a major storm threat, I’m just glad I don’t work in television news anymore.

I’ve had my fill of standing in the pouring rain or flooded ravines or on beaches in wind gusts threatening to sweep me, and my camera crew, away.

We always got good video and the stories got on the air, but they were thankless assignments and reporters always wound up looking like fools.

One instance in Los Angeles involved canyon flooding. It was pouring, windy, and the water was literally up to my knees. It was raining so hard that my raincoat got soaked and I was drenched to my skin. To avoid pneumonia, I borrowed a yellow slicker from my crew.

The camera truck couldn’t get close to the property damage because of the water, and the canyon was such that we couldn’t get a good picture without risking electrocution. But we got the story, and it was on the air for the newscast lead.

Congratulations to all? Well, not everyone.

I’ll never forget the snotty news director (who shall remain nameless to avoid illustrating what an idiot he was) whose only comment on the result of our good work that day was to remark mockingly to me that my rain hat and gear left a lot to be desired “style-wise.”

As I recall, his exact and only words were: “What were you wearing, and what was that thing on your head?”

That’s it folks. It’s not news. It’s show business, and that’s all that matters.

By the way, that “thing” was a rain hat.

With that reality check, I consider the media frenzy about hurricanes approaching the mainland with more than a modicum of skepticism.

Yes, there are forecasts. Yes, they need to be reported. Yes, people need to be prepared for the worst – yes, yes, yes.

But no, no, no, the public does not need to be whipped into a frenzy of buying, boarding-up or evacuating because of reported impending catastrophe.

In fact, the public would be better served for newscasts to report before storms and earthquakes and other possible disasters that people should always prepare for the worst. Then, when it happens, there’s no panic and, yes, folks are prepared.

The Boy Scouts have it right: Be prepared.

The problem is those media reports aren’t “exciting.” We don’t get to see a reporter hit by a wave or knocked down by the wind or his umbrella being torn apart.

Who stands in a hurricane holding an umbrella anyway?!

I’ll tell you who: a TV reporter with a smiling news director. You have to keep the boss happy.

Judging by the actions of Mother Nature last week, there must be happy news directors across the country.

First, an earthquake near Washington, D.C., that shook up the East Coast. It made for blaring headlines and talking heads spewing gloom and doom.

But it wasn’t good TV. Earthquakes happen with no warning, so there’s no media buildup of anticipation for disaster

Yes, the quake was unusual for that geographic area. But from the reports, you’d think it was the first time some of those reporters ever talked about quakes.

The Ramapo fault? What’s that?

Never heard of the New Madrid fault and the really big quake there? Earthquake preparedness? Don’t be silly.

Panic in the streets? Politicians grabbing the microphones?

Of course, great headlines and visuals.

But do something about it in terms of construction and infrastructure design and retrofitting and people personally preparing for the next one?

Of course not. That’s boring radio and TV.

After the Eastern shaker, reporters and anchors posed stupid questions and persisted in comparing “their” quake with what the West endures, especially California.

Of course, to them, theirs was more threatening and more dangerous.

The hurricane falls into that same “theirs versus ours” view.

We know media mentality focuses on New York and D.C. They regard what happens there as really important. Anything geographically beyond that barely gets mentioned or is ignored. Natural disasters outside the beltway get short shrift.

Coverage of the massive and devastating fires in Texas, which continue to burn in areas? Virtually ignored.

The three, terrible Arizona fires and especially their link to illegal aliens? Virtually ignored.

Thousands evacuated? Where?

Consider that on the day of the D.C. quake, there were several in the San Francisco area on the Hayward fault. And in the two days following, there were several rumblings on the San Andreas fault. I felt two of them, and it was nerve-wracking.

Funny, no mention on national media. They’d only be interested if we had lots of photogenic wreckage.

A big difference between Californians and the East Coast is that we learn from experience. People prepare and building codes are upgraded.

The West knows it will happen again.

The East just hopes for the best and doesn’t even stock up on batteries.

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