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Tracking Katrina

Editor & Publisher is publishing blogs and dispatches from the newspapers feeling the brunt of Katrina's wrath today. Buildings collapsing, looting, people clinging to trees and sitting on roofs. Sounds like sci-fi. storm blogs

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No one is more cynical about the exploitation of bad weather on television news than yours truly. Breathless predictions of massive blizzards that end up discharging 6 inches of snow or of terrible storms that don't live up to their reputations are a natural outgrowth of a) weather's handy role as a conversation starter around the dinner table or water cooler b) the nation's decreasing tolerance for risk and growing proclivity to panic and c) last but not least, the obvious TV marketing strategy of "if we scare the hell out of you about bad weather, you'll keep watching us."

Having said that, watching the cable news networks -- starting Sunday evening as the size and destructive potential of Katrina became known -- was a very scary experience. And by the time I hit the pillow last night, I was obsessed about the storm and the possible obliteration of New Orleans -- America's second greatest party city after Las Vegas.

Here's a sampling of what you heard and saw if you were watching last night.
1) A Fox News Channel staffer repeating predictions that "New Orleans will be destroyed beyond recognition " and that there could be 50,000 dead.
2) Wrenching scenes of thousands of people who didn't have the ways and means to leave town -- some elderly, some children, some poor -- cramming into the city's Superdome, ("the shelter of last resort") and conjuring up images of the hapless victims in some Irwin Allen disaster movie.
3) MSNBC's Chris Matthews, talking to NBC anchor Brian Williams who was in New Orleans, and describing what that city was facing as a "bibilical threat...A whole city under water and toxic waste."
4) Marty Bahamonde, an otherwise calm, cool and collected FEMA spokesman, telling the Fox News Channel's Geraldo Rivera that Katrina is "the worst case scenario...the absolute worst thing we could have imagined."
5) CNN reporter David Mattingly, transmitting by video phone and standing in a completely deserted French Quarter, holding up today's haunting headline -- one with echoes of 9/11 -- in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "GROUND ZERO" front page

It may be days before we learn Katrina's final toll in money, lives, homes, and misery. And we can hope for the best. But for once, I didn't feel conned watching the feverish TV news run-up to the storm's arrival. I felt frightened.
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