Rant and Rave
by Car Talk Producer Doug Berman
Hurricane Edouard was a menacing storm. Packing winds of around a thousand miles an hour, this ferocious hurricane was heading toward my home last week with the potential to do millions of dollars in damage to my community, and endanger the lives of children, parents, and sweet little old ladies. Not to mention my tomato plants.
That's the impression I got from watching the local news on Boston's ABC affiliate. A full week before Edouard was even supposed to get close to the United States. This 15-year-old weatherman comes on at a minute before 11:00 and urgently warns me about the black clouds of Hurricane Edouard developing in the Caribbean. He tells me to stay tuned for details.
Now, a hurricane can be a real bummer. Ask some of the folks in North Carolina who used to have a roof. But when was the last time a major hurricane hit the Boston area? I'll tell you when. 1938. How do I know that? Well, they call it the "Hurricane of 1938."
Moreover (I love that word--"moreover." Raymond says it belongs exclusively to him. But he gave me permission to use it, just this once. But I digress.). Moreover, I was willing to bet that when and if Edwardo ever got here, it would turn out to be what we call in this part of the country..."rain."
So why is this 15-year-old meteorologist (How do you become a meteorologist, anyway? Especially by age 15?) on my screen getting all fatutzed about Hurricane Edouard? Because some yutz producer at Channel 5 told him to! Why? Because Saturday was a slow news day. There were no other looming disasters with which to alarm the viewers. No unapprehended serial killers stalking five-star restaurants, no cruise ships missing the dock and plowing ashore to threaten pedestrians in outdoor cafes, no contaminated seaweed being served in local Japanese miso soup bars. They needed a potential disaster Saturday, and weather is one of the few truly reliable disasters left.
Disasters are the mother's milk of local news. Everyone knows there is no real news locally...just more prattle by low-level politicians (and politics is just show business for ugly people, if you ask me) and some ball scores. In lieu of an actual mauling, shooting, or inferno, the threat of an impending natural disaster is the next best thing. If there's a slight possibility of a hurricane two weeks from next Tuesday, let's get people all whipped up so they'll keep tuning in to see how close the hurricane's getting. Never mind that there's a 98 percent chance there won't be a hurricane--we've got ratings to produce!
And I'll be damned if they didn't harp on Hurricane Edouard in every newscast for a WEEK AND A HALF. But on Sunday night, a funny thing happened. Said 15-year-old weatherman came on--obviously in response to a flood of calls the station had received--and told people not to be alarmed. The hurricane, he said, was at least a week away from getting here, if it ever gets here. Ah, I thought, a breath of fresh air. They've realized that they're needlessly scaring people with all this hype. But he couldn't help adding, "We'll be watching it carefully, so stay tuned to Channel 5 for up-to-the-minute reports on Hurricane Edouard's progress."
Well, I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore! (I borrowed that phrase from Tommy. He says it belongs exclusively to him, but he let me borrow it for this rant.)
I'm sick of being manipulated into fearing for my life, my limbs, and my tomato plants just because the 11:00 news needs viewers. What can we do to convince them to stop this broadcast harassment? Well, if there are any Nielsen homes out there reading today...next time some local station plays the scare card to keep you watching, just flip to "I Love Lucy." Bringing down the measured ratings is the surest way to get fast action.
But what about all of us non-Nielsen homes? What can we do? I say we all flood our local TV stations with panicked calls next time they pull this crap. If we can't stop them from scaring the hell out of people purely to increase their ratings, at least let's tie up their phone lines and make them hire more receptionists. It's petty. But at least it'll make me feel a little better.