Enduring Television

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As you know, Florida has been hit by eight hurricanes in the past 15 months, and we Floridians are indeed sick of them. Hurricane are worse — but I’m tempted to say only marginally worse — than the television coverage of them.

One gets tired of seeing television people in their raincoats cavorting about in the rain and being amazed and astonished by ordinary happenings. A hurricane involves high winds, large waves, rain and a storm surge. When they arrive, there is no point in expressing surprise and excitedly reporting that the surf is rough, the water is rising, the rain is falling and the wind is blowing.

The only information people really need about a hurricane is its location, its intensity and its projected path. All of this information is supplied by the U.S. government. The locations of local shelters are supplied by local officials. What you don’t need is 24 hours of endless jabber by people standing in one spot where it is impossible for them to know what is really going on anywhere but in their immediate vicinity.

I also don’t like the paternalistic attitude that so many of these TV characters assume. They act as if — some even claim — that they are going to protect us, which is plain and simple heifer dust. They also seem to resent the fact that some people in the area hit by the storm refused to evacuate. It is as if they can’t imagine anybody disregarding the Holy Word of the Authority Figures.

Listen, many Americans remain under the impression that as free people, they can assess the situation themselves and make their own decisions. Others simply can’t afford to hop in a car, travel several hundred miles and rent a hotel room. Then there are those who don’t want to get stuck in a shelter. At any rate, they don’t need to be chastised or admonished by some on-camera personality whose expenses are being paid and who has taken great pains to find a safe place for himself. I kept getting the urge to borrow a line from one of Robert De Niro’s movies and shout at the TV screen, "Shut the (blank) up."

It’s true that some people who don’t leave end up saying what has become a cliché, "I’ll never do that again." It is also true that some people who do leave regret it and wish they had stayed at home. Life is a risky business, and of all the people clamoring to tell us how to live our lives, television reporters are among the least qualified to do so.

It brought to mind the only funny thing I heard said about the Iraq War, just before it started. I’m sorry that I’ve forgotten who said it, but the line was, "They ought to name this Operation Enduring Wolf Blitzer," a reference to one of CNN’s anchors. It is a regrettable fact that more and more of us see the world through the television screen, which distorts reality even more than a newspaper.

Four tourist destinations have been destroyed and another badly damaged by the hurricanes this year. The Mississippi Gulf Coast, New Orleans, Cozumel and Cancun are pretty much out of it for months and months, and Miami was pretty banged up.

I don’t agree with those who claim that natural calamities help the economy because of the money spent to repair the damage. All that money and materials are money and materials that, but for the disaster, would have been spent and used in more productive ways.

The worst part of hurricanes occurs long after the television guys have gone somewhere else. Because of the wide extent of the damage, the cleanup and repairs take months and months, and places that are really hit hard are never quite the same again. Hurricanes are especially hard on the poor and on small businesses, which lack the resources of big corporations.

The only good that came from the last storm was that it brought a cold front down and replenished the Everglades, which in recent years had been suffering from drought.

Florida is still paradise for those who don’t like snow and ice, but paradise down here comes with heat, humidity, bugs and storms. Since we appear to be going through an extra-busy storm cycle, we will no doubt have to endure Miles O’Brien, Anderson Cooper and others for at least a couple of more years.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

© 2005 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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