Admittedly, CNN’s Don Lemon standing in a pool of water dressed in waders like a lobster fisherman is a sight to behold, but the single-minded focus of the cable news channels in the lead up to Hurricane Ian seemed over the top and too typical of the way those organizations report the news.
Back in the days before cable TV, Americans had to get along with just a half hour of broadcast news a night. Now, the all-news cable channels offer up their fare 24/7. Despite the non-stop programming, though, viewers are getting a narrower slice of information than Walter Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley once delivered.
In newspaper terms, these “news” channels are largely the equivalent of opinion pages. MSNBC, for example, despite being a subsidiary of a legacy broadcast news operation, is almost entirely built on liberal commentary and analysis. Most days, it seems as if the hosts on MSNBC’s string of shows define news only as anything that has to do with Donald Trump.
Until the hurricane came along, it was all Trump almost all the time on MSNBC. To a lesser extent, the same was true of CNN and, in a funhouse mirror kind of way, on Fox, too. That is why it was weird to suddenly see all these earnest political commentators suddenly turned into weather reporters as Ian bore down on the Sunshine State. For several days, the hurricane blew away the ceaseless chatter about Trump, as well as any other news story on the planet.
The destruction in Florida is horrendous and the monster hurricane obviously was the nation’s top story, but was it necessary to make it the only story on cable news, hour after hour for nearly three days? Instead of inanely repetitive micro reports about very local weather, could the news channels not fit in a few other important stories of concern to those of us living far from hurricane alley?
I do not remember all-day and all-night coverage of big floods in the Midwest or wildfires on the West Coast. Why are hurricanes different? Likely, it is because the pace of a hurricane is timed right for TV. Unlike an earthquake, you know when one is coming, where it is going and what kind of dramatic images it will provide. Unlike a fire in a forest, there is a pretty good idea of when a hurricane will fade away.
I get it; it is perfect for TV news. Still, I wish the cable channels would remember how to cover more than one big story at once.
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