A version of this article first appeared in the Reliable Sources newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Television journalists standing out in the rain and wind is a staple of hurricane coverage. Some viewers love it, others think it’s ridiculous. No matter what you think, Wednesday showed the limits of those spectacular live shots.
Hurricane Michael was so ferocious that reporters near the center of the storm could not physically stand in the worst of the winds. Some broadcasters used the relative safety of a sturdy building to remain outside, while shielded from the gusts. Others retreated inside and even barricaded themselves inside interior rooms until the eyewall passed. Some news crews were forced off the air because cell towers and satellite phones were no match for the monster. Case in point, NBC’s Mariana Atencio tried to call into “Nightly News” from Port St. Joe – viewers heard her say “it looks like a massive tornado hit” – but her signal was barely audible.
Later in the evening, Tampa Bay Times reporter Zack Sampson, in the same town, said he could only get cell service at the top of a nearby bridge. “Even the cops are here, high above the intracoastal, using their phones,” he tweeted. “They say even their communication systems are down.”
Reporters are trying to get to Port St. Joe, Mexico Beach and other devastated communities, but roads are blocked “by just about everything that Mother Nature can throw at you,” CNN’s Miguel Marquez said…
Thursday’s top story will be:
Michael had a relatively small inner core, but it was still intensifying as it reached the Florida panhandle. So there’s a swath of land just to the east of Panama City that experienced tornado-like conditions.
Michael’s strength was “shocking,” Sam Champion said on Chris Cuomo’s CNN program.
“When we get some daylight into these areas” on Thursday, “the damage is just going to be horrifying.” And the path of damage extended into south Georgia…
Moment of impact
As the eyewall passed by Panama City Beach at 1 p.m. ET, CNN’s John Berman said the wind felt like “small nails” hitting his face. That image stuck with me all afternoon.
NBC, ABC and CBS all aired special reports as Michael’s eye came ashore between 1 and 2. Lester Holt, appearing on NBC’s special report from inside a hotel room, said he could feel the sliding glass doors shaking. The crew took apart the bed and put the mattress in front of the window in case it shattered. “You know, we want to be on the air, but we’ve got to take care of each other,” Holt told anchor Kate Snow. “Know that we’re safe but we’re going to have to sign off.” Holt came back on about five minutes later and showed that the room was barricaded…
By 6:30 p.m., Holt and his nightly news rivals were able to step outside and show some of the damage. Jeff Glor anchored the “CBS Evening News” with just a LiveU video transmission unit and a single functional cell phone.
Exec producer Mosheh Oinounou talked with Glor via correspondent Nikole Killion’s phone… Her signal was used to feed Glor the show in his ear, direct camera shots, send scripts and notes, etc…
The big picture
Brian Lowry emails: It’s difficult to connect a breaking news story to a larger issue, in the same way a mass shooting can appear to be an unseemly time to discuss gun control. But Hurricane Michael and terrifying images out of Florida are already prompting some to connect the recent spate of catastrophic weather to the U.N. Climate report, and the political implications of failing to act. John Dean, for example, tweeted about Republicans rejecting climate science, amid a spate of editorials addressing the need for action and what the LAT characterized as “lack of political will.”
How to talk about hurricanes now
Notice how news outlets tend to call hurricanes like Michael a “natural disaster?” CNN’s John D. Sutter points out that we continue to use that term, “natural,” but “doing so – especially in the era of climate change – is misleading if not dangerous.” He spoke with several disaster experts and climate scientists about this. “The phrase ‘natural disaster’ is an attempt to lay blame where blame really doesn’t rest,” Kerry A. Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT and a global expert on hurricanes, told Sutter…
Trump’s show must go on?
That’s my takeaway from his decision to go ahead with Wednesday night’s rally in PA. Back in 2012, he criticized Barack Obama for campaigning in the wake of Sandy. But on Wednesday he said he couldn’t let down his fans.
After the rally, Trump called into Fox’s 11 p.m. program, “Fox News @ Night,” marking anchor Shannon Bream’s first interview with Trump as president. Trump also called into Judge Jeanine’s show last weekend…
>> Related: Jason Schwartz and Gabby Orr’s latest for Politico: Fox News is no longer carrying every Trump rally live, and “some in the White House are worried that the president is losing a megaphone to his base…”