Frances and Clinton: This Is Campaign News?

Hurricanes and health scares rarely seem to produce journalism’s finer moments (particularly so with broadcast journalism). Both are unpredictable, involve a lot of wait-and-see, and — with air time to fill — often lead to speculative and hype-filled reporting.

Conditions are optimal for this type of sub-par reporting today and this long weekend, with Hurricane Frances heading Florida’s way and Bill Clinton scheduled for heart surgery in New York City. And political reporters, no doubt, will treat these events as mere foils in the election battle and speculate wildly about what each Frances-and-Clinton-related development means for the race to the White House.

Already, Campaign Desk has found two political reporters in the running for lamest hurricane- or health scare-related analysis of the election campaign to date.

It started on MSNBC’s “Imus in the Morning” this morning, CBS News’ Craig Crawford tossed off the following: “One thing that’s interesting, you know, the Democratic Convention produced Hurricane Charley, which went after the Republican voters in southwest Florida…This hurricane Frances is heading straight for the Democrats.”

What next? An “undecided” hurricane that blows back and forth from Republican-leaning to Democrat-heavy Florida neighborhoods?

Our second contender is Fox News’ Carl Cameron who this afternoon showed viewers clips of both Bush and Kerry wishing Bill Clinton well and then said:

“Heartfelt sympathies from the Democratic candidate but behind the scenes, Democratic strategists are aware that once again, former president Bill Clinton, the leading light in his party, has with this unfortunate circumstance, in some measure eclipsed some of what Senator Kerry was to do today.”

And later, “John Kerry today, trying to slap back and counterattack, to some extent sharing the limelight with the bedridden Bill Clinton, facing surgery for heart problems, and the Kerry campaign obviously recognizing now is not the time to complain about that…nonetheless John Kerry knows his opportunity to fire back and share some of the limelight after the Republican Convention is not only facing a hurricane, but now facing Bill Clinton’s health.”

In other words, Clinton’s health scare will frustrate Kerry’s efforts to make headlines, but, apparently, not Bush’s ?

We don’t think so. From our cable news viewing today, both candidates have been blown off the air to some extent by the Frances-and-Clinton combo — with Bush’s post-convention glow and Kerry’s counterattack on various convention speakers each taking a back seat to fresher news.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.