It Is Our Job to Scare People

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A friend of mine who used to work in the news business told me that a former boss told him that the job of a news organization was to “scare people.” It reminded me of Bill Murray from Scrooged telling his staff he wanted viewers to be terrified to miss the Christmas special they were having on Christmas Eve. Well, file this in that category.

It’s February. The cool weather is starting to abate for us in Texas as we start to move towards spring. With that in mind, if you are “Houston’s Only News Daily,” what could you possibly write about to fill space?

Could it be a special section on blooming flowers and planting for the spring? Could it be a fashion section on new trends for this season? Could it be a big preview on baseball (that’ll be soon I’m sure)? No, for the Chron, the most logical thing to cover, of course, is devestation.

As a result, the submit this:

If the Big One Hits, Will the Houston Area Be Ready?

a full-color, Flash-animated section on the possibility of massive destruction to the Houston-Galveston area as the result of a large category 4 or category 5 hurricane. Perfect. We won’t hit hurricane season for 5 months, but whatever.

I’m a bit of a hurricane afficianado. I like to track them. I like watching the computer models. I’m a geek. But, what is funny about this is the way in which the Chron attempts to induce panic.

Just like after 9/11 when we decided we weren’t safe (nevermind the Oklahoma City bombing, the first World Trade Center attack, the myriad of terrorist attacks on Americans abroad every year) or after the tsunami in Asia and Africa when we realized the west coast was due to be destroyed, the Chron has tried to terrorize us with the killer hurricane scenario.

Nevermind that a cat. 5 hurricane has only hit the US AS A cat. 5 about 6 times in over 100 years. Nevermind that the Gulf Coast is the longest coast line in America greatly reducing the odds of a direct hit. Nevermind that most powerful hurricanes are quite small in diameter with an eye of usually less than 35 miles and hurricane force winds extended fewer than 120 miles from the center (with major winds extended in a smaller radius than that). Also, nevermind that the storm surge of a large hurricane – though massive – would have little or no impact on Harris County – what most of the story is about.

Finally, nevermind that a storm would have to hit at Freeport and travel directly north to put central Houston and the major populated urban areas in its path or even that we had a major cat. 4 hurricane in the 60’s in Hurricane Carla that was destructive but didn’t destroy many homes (including my home) that were built under far less stringent building codes.

Now, I’m not saying a cat. 4 or 5 hurricane isn’t dangerous or that we shouldn’t be prepared. I totally understand the devastation that can be caused and it is rough. But saying that all your trees would “turn into missles,” is not only misleading, it is simply false.

Most of the projected estimates of destruction are based on costs – seemingly the way you can decide the worth of ANYTHING these days. The damage could reach the billions – 10 times more than Tropical Storm Allison they say. Of course it would. There are more homes in low-lying areas and more population in the area. In addition, Allison dumped the majority of its water on central Houston where the flooding was at its worst. I know. I live a mile from White Oak Bayou.

But, this isn’t about preparedness or worry or cost analysis. This is about selling news papers and advertising. This is about scaring the bejeezus out of people so that they “stay tuned.” It was like when Rob Arnold was standing in waist-deep water during Allsion and imploring viewers to “not go in the water under any circumstances.” Sure thing, dumbass.

My grandparents’ house had 18 inches of water in it. My 90+ year-old grandparents were floating on their beds with their animals during Allison. I witnessed the destruction first hand. I don’t need some moronic news organization to try and scare me into believing we are in trouble IF something happens. Report, don’t predict Kreskin. Leave the job of scaring us to Hard Copy and America’s Most Wanted or the Department of Homeland Security.

For REAL information on hurricanes, try these resources:

National Hurricane Center
Weather Underground Tropical Forecasting
Intellecast Hurricane Center
University of Hawaii Tropical Weather Tracking Center
Hurricane Alley
The Golden Triangle Weather Page Hurricane Tracking Center

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