How will media cover the GOP if Hurricane Gustav hits New Orleans?
For CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, the decision was a no-brainer. When forecasters saw that Hurricane Gustav might threaten the Gulf Coast within days of today’s three-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Cooper was ready to travel straight from covering the Democratic National Convention in Denver to the French Quarter.
It's a choice many more newshounds may make next week if the worst comes to pass: Stay in Minnesota and give GOP candidate John McCain saturation coverage equal to his Democratic rivals, or decamp to the Gulf Coast and wait to see if Gustav brings a reprise of Katrina's destruction?
Today, as other cable TV news anchors focus on John McCain’s announcement of his running mate for vice president in Minnesota, Cooper will be preparing to anchor Anderson Cooper 360 from New Orleans, watching weather reports over the weekend to see if he’ll need to stay through next week.
“I’m not torn at all…there’s plenty of reporters covering the Republican convention,” said Cooper, who made a mark with passionate reporting on the failure of government to respond well to Katrina three years ago. “Whether the storm hits New Orleans or anywhere along the Gulf Coast, we’ve been committed to telling the continuing story (there) since Katrina. It’s an important part of our continuing coverage.”
At Fox News Channel, vice president of news editorial product Jay Wallace still remembers producing anchor Shepard Smith’s emotional Katrina coverage from New Orleans in 2005. But he said the storm was still too far away – forecasters’ cone of uncertainty stretched from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle Thursday evening – to make concrete plans for deploying big name anchors.
“We know that conventions these days are mostly for show…if we have a major news event, we’re not going to be able to turn away from a major storm hitting the Gulf Coast three years after Katrina,” said Wallace, noting that political journalists such as Brit Hume and Chris Wallace would remain in Minneapolis regardless of the storm’s impact.
“We’re pretty well equipped to cover both stories,” said Wallace, who has coordinated the newschannel’s planning for Gustav from Denver. “We just have to hope a third big story doesn’t jump up.”
Kate O’Brian, senior vice president of news for ABC, echoed Wallace’s assessment, saying executives there likely wouldn’t decided whether prime time TV coverage of the GOP convention would be affected by reports on Gustav until Monday or Tuesday.
And what if Republicans object next week, saying that breaking into the network’s 10 p.m. newscasts from their convention to talk Gustav would unfairly remind viewers of Katrina and give them less coverage than the Democrats received?
“Since I can’t predict the weather, I can’t predict how much of a story it will be,” said O’Brian, noting that same ABC reporters are already going to the area without affecting the network’s RNC coverage. “Right now, we plan to cover the Republicans the same way we covered the Democratic convention.” (weather graphic courtesy of Bay News 9)