If I’m perfectly honest with you, I watched way too much coverage of Hurricane Irma. Before it even had made its wrath known throughout the Caribbean, I was caught up in the hype surrounding its power and strength. And the coverage did not disappoint. Cable news networks (I favored CNN, but pick your poison) pulled out all their “infotainment” stops, making a deadly storm seem disturbingly exciting.
I can’t criticize them too much, though, because I played right into their hands. The channel rarely changed in the days leading up to the storm — much less when the storm actually made landfall on the continental United States — and I even found myself watching the middle-of-the-night-coverage when up with my middle-of-the-night-loving baby.
Because of my morbid fascination, I watched every interview with every official, resident, business owner and vacationer they trotted out to pose questions to. The anchors segued from on-location reports to the latest update from the in-house meteorologist/alarmist. I’m pretty sure CNN, at least, circulated a “List of Words to be Used On-Air as Frequently as Possible” to its on-air talent, a list that included gems such as “barrage,” “barrel,” “pelt,” “slam,” “devastate,” “catastrophic” and, of course, “direct hit.”
I say none of this to minimize Irma’s damage. It did wreak havoc in the Caribbean, and especially in the Florida keys, and caused flooding, damage and power outages for millions — not to mention claimed too many lives. But it does make one think that there should be a reasonable balance between reporting on an event and turning it into a media spectacle.
There were a few high points that took place during the coverage of impending doom, and one of them was this: On Saturday afternoon, when it became clear that Irma’s path was definitely veering west, a reporter interviewed a woman in line at a shelter in Fort Myers. The woman, who was Latina — and, I’d bet my bottom dollar, Catholic — was explaining to the reporter that while the storm was scary, it gave neighbors a chance to watch out for each other. More specifically, she said, it gave her the opportunity to care for her mother, who was wheelchair-bound. The opportunity. The beautiful witness stopped me in my tracks. Here was an elderly, sickly woman — someone that much of our society would look at as disposable in this era of euthanasia — being cherished during the worst of times by her family. It was love and sacrifice lived out with a spirit of gratitude — all on display during prime-time national television.
The woman wasn’t done either. “God is in charge,” she told the reporter. “We need to pray.”
It’s amazing how God works. Through the intersection of a nasty storm and crazed media coverage, a disciple not only was witnessing to the Gospel, but proclaiming it.
Would that all media coverage could be so sweet.