When ABC’s “World News” host Diane Sawyer reported residents of Alabama was caught off guard by tornadoes that ravaged the state, it was nothing be considered unusual. It’s a common, everyday occurrence for ABC and mainstream media affiliates across the country. It’s called sensationalizing news.
To estalish the mind set of sensationalism journalism in Texas, dealing with disasters, one would have to start with Tropical Storm Allison. That storm woke up a sleeping city. It came through early in that week, moved on, turned around and came back at the end of the week.
Local news affiliates were even caught off guard with Allison. Houstonians felt betrayed and many turned to the National Weather Service and passed the word. When Hurricane Katrina enterred the Gulf of Mexico with her sights set on New Orleans, the city was standing still. Maybe they too, had mistrust of their local news affiliates.
Lessons learned from Allison and Katrina instituted a standard operating procedure along the Gulf Coast, be ready for the next storm, stay on top of the next storm and above all, sensationalize the next one if needs arise. The need arose when Huricane Rita enterred the Gulf of Mexico. This storm came almost a month after Katrina and it set in motion that standard operating procedure.
U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director David Paulison was quoted saying “I strongly, strongly urge Gulf Coast residents to pay close attention to this storm, then Mayor of Houston, Bill White sounded the alarm and the local affiliates spread the word. The word they spreaded wasn’t the same word the National Hurricane Center was spreading.
The mass evacuation of Houston for this storm proved to costly in more ways than one. Gridlock of the area freeways was an understatement. Nobody was going anywhere. Even if they did, they were heading in the direction Rita was going. Cars ran out of gas, food was short and then there was the bus fire that killed those Senior Citizens from a Bellaire, Texas nursing home.
Alabama meteorologist James Spann, set the record straight, “NO WARNING? Get a clue. This event was forecast days in advance, and the average lead times for the entire event were 20 to 30 minutes. That is plenty of time to get to a safe place.”
Calm down Mr. Spann, it’s called sensationalism journalism and it’s here to stay.