ST. PAUL - The cable TV coverage of Hurricane Gustav was a case study in the newer form of journalism.
First, you build up the potential danger of the storm, and then, even when it’s clear that Hurricane Gustav has been overrated (it was a Category Two storm, not a three or a four), you keep sounding the alarm.
Scaring people is part of the game now. That and ‘gotcha journalism’ rule our craft. Images of reporters, meteorologists, and even anchors, dressed in rain gear and being buffeted by winds, fill the screen.
One reporter visited a hospital to speak to a couple whose developmentally impaired child had just been born. The baby was too frail to be moved, so they were sitting out the storm at the baby’s bedside. It was a touching story, but it seemed intrusive, if not cruel, to visit this family and use so much footage of this potentially tragic situation.
Another scene cannot be forgotten. McCain had just introduced his vice presidential choice and they spoke. Then the pundits talked it over. The question of the hour: “Did they have good chemistry?” And the answer was: “Yes, absolutely!”
Hurricane Gustav did not totally obscure the GOP convention, although, for a while, a split screen enabled viewers to see images from both stories.
With fierce stubbornness the cable journalists held on to the buildup they had given Gustav. They seemed eager to find tragic nuggets on the Gulf Coast; in fact, the sense of desperation that the storm hadn’t turned out to be close to World War III was palpable. I didn’t hear anyone say: “We were wrong. We misled a lot of people. Gustav wasn’t as bad as we thought he’d be.”
In this new era, some journalists hang on to old story lines through thick and thin. We have to give them credit for tenacity.