Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sampling CNN coverage of Japan crisis

I know this is a developing story; events are outstripping the resources of news gatherers, and I'm sure everyone at CNN is doing the best he or she can.

However, I think there's something temperamentally unsuitable about some of the people CNN, and likely Fox News and MSNBC, recruit to present the news.

Chad Myers, a "severe weather expert" for CNN, gave a brief weather overview for the area around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where four of the six reactors have experienced extensive damage leading to emissions of radioactive steam and/or explosions that have damaged their outer shells.

I have no quibbles with Myers's meteorological skills (I'm not qualified to assess them), but I was unsettled by his inappropriate excitability.

At a time of crisis, the last thing we need is a guy raising his voice to make his points like a motivational speaker at a seminar. Add to that his (presumably inadvertent) conflation of "radiation" and "radioactive particles," and you have a fellow whose grasp of the facts at hand is in doubt.

Myers said something to the effect of, "I know you think radioactivity goes in all directions, but this dry wind is blowing everything out to sea." He apparently meant that the wind was blowing the radioactive particles suspended in the air out to sea, away from population centers.

Anyone can make a slip of the tongue. However, the people charged with presenting technical information to the audience have a special responsibility not to spread misinformation. Myers should have caught his own error, minor though it was, and corrected it. My reason for singling him out for this mistake is that I think he was too damned focused on being an animated TV presenter to pay close attention to what he was saying.

And that, in a nutshell, is what I think is wrong with so many of cable news's anchors: they're hired on the basis of how they present themselves rather than on how they present information.

Wolf Blitzer, during the same broadcast, struggled for words. This is a Blitzer trait in my experience because he's always trying to play the narrator, always wanting to be The Voice Of Authority, always searching for a poignant observation that will be the capper to whatever someone else just said (and always, seemingly, without a script). I wish Blitzer and his bosses would reconcile themselves to the fact that sometimes, all an anchor can do -- all he should do -- is to play traffic cop, moving from one correspondent or video piece to another without injecting his own insipid blather.

These people get in the way of the news because they worry they don't have anything to add. They're probably right to worry.

Nevertheless, they should worry even more that others will reach the same conclusion I have: these news presenters are too annoying to make it worth watching their newscasts at all.

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