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Macho meteorology

October 2004

Just a rant about the media hyping their news stories. This time it's the weather.
It's the hurricane season, and TV weathermen are in seventh heaven. Here's a scene we've seen repeatedly on TV during the past month: While Florida authorities call on residents to evacuate, while the storm is pounding the shore, while sheet metal debris is whipping through the torrential rains in hurricane and tornado warning conditions, and emergency officials are desperately calling on people to take shelter, we see weather reporters for the news networks and the Weather Channel stupidly clutching any solid object against the hurricane wind to get an outdoor "standup". Are these news program managers and reporters just more stupid than the average Joe?

Well perhaps, but that's not why they're out there. They're there because viewers want them there. Because people do stop and stare at a jumper on a ledge; they do brake on the freeway to look at a wreck on the other side of the road; and they do tune to TV programs that offer dangerous and violent action, apparent or real.

Of course there's no need for the reporter to be out in the hurricane, risking bodily harm; we could get all the information we need about the conditions from a remote camera. But once one TV channel thought of the idea of putting their reporter out on the ledge, so to speak, the others had to follow or we wouldn't watch them any more. Now, if you don't have a guy on the ledge, the viewer tunes to a channel that does, simply because of the entertainment value and vicarious thrill of seeing the reporter on the verge of being blown away. (Don't we all harbor some deep-seated ambivalence toward weathermen? Aren't they responsible for those ruined picnics and rain squalls on the beach?)

Especially amusing this season was the rush among non-weather reporters to get in on the action. Seemed unfair that weathermen – of all people! – should get the heroic role. Anderson Cooper comes to mind as an example of the upwardly mobile anchormen – perhaps not too secure in their positions – who felt a need to be seen "in harm's way". The view of this normally desk-bound reporter struggling to stay upright in the hurricane did have considerable entertainment value, and I admit to cracking a smile at his public show of bravery. (At this very moment he's on a national speaking tour, holding forth about the hazardous life of the news reporter.) Well, we get what we demand; in the media as with politicians and pizza, what sells is what the public is eager to swallow.

© 2004 H. Paul Lillebo

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