Amid all the hurricane stories about dangers and human suffering, I find it necessary to focus on an issue that invariably comes up during these stormy times: There always are people out there who ridicule us TV reporters who stand in the extreme wind and rain and scream our live shots over the roar of the wind. You might think that’s insignificant, but then perhaps you’re not familiar with every television correspondent’s axiom: “It’s all about me.”
As compelling as that belief is, it’s not our only motivation. But it’s a biggie. Take it from me, because I’ve ventured out in quite a number of blizzards, hurricanes, tropical storms and tropical depressions. (By the way, I’ve often wondered whether a tropical depression is the melancholy some people experience around palm trees. But I digress.) Having weathered the storms, so to speak, I possibly can provide some insights: First of all, you can disregard the Saffir-Simpson scale of wind velocities. I’ve developed a much simpler way to gauge whether it’s too dangerous out there: If the gusts are blowing so hard that they cause my hair to blow around after I’ve sprayed it into the usual helmet, then this is probably too hazardous, particularly for us 8-by-10 glossies, unless, of course, the competition has ventured into this tempestuous maw. More about that in a moment.
You’ve probably asked yourself, “Why is that idiot out there?” Good question. This idiot had two purposes — actually three, if you count the fact that some management person, sitting in a comfortable office, ordered me to take one for the corporate profits. First, it’s so that you don’t have to. It’s a way to bring the personal experience of what it’s really like out there to those huddled inside and watching on TV, those who still have power at least. In other words, we allow you to vicariously experience what you’d like to if you were to take leave of your senses.
More compellingly, this hot-dogging is one more way for those of us with fragile egos (which is to say everyone in our business) to show off.
To be serious, just for a moment, it serves the same purpose as our covering combat. It provides a relatable human element to the elements. Imagine if we relied on the generals and civilian leadership to tell us how a war is going, if you didn’t have ambitious fools like me reporting on the ground. No wonder some in the military are so hostile to media.
Or, imagine if we had to trust the police to decide whether officers inappropriately engaged in deadly brutality, particularly against minorities. We’d probably have to rely on smartphone video. Oh, wait …
And imagine if it was only the politician and his supporters deciding how he was doing. Actually, we’d have the situation we have now, or certainly what a certain president wants us to have.
Speaking of wind, let’s return to the hurricane coverage: I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out some rank hypocrisy. You’ve seen it: The studio anchor comes back after the treacherous live shot and tells the reporter, “Be safe out there.” What’s left out is the threat that we reporters are in even more jeopardy if someone else gets more compelling (translate “ratings-getting”) coverage.
Still, it’s exhilarating to push to the limits to get valuable information. When people ask what I love about being a journalist, I always respond, “It beats growing up.”
Now, a correction to a previous column advocating an NFL boycott because quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” in protest of racial discrimination, suddenly can’t get a job. My description of his tenure with the San Francisco 49ers included “a Super Bowl win as the starting quarterback.” I was incorrect. It was a classic case of fake news. His team lost that Super Bowl. I didn’t get my facts straight. I hate it when others don’t. I particularly hate it when I don. You can decide whether to boycott my column.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.