TV cor­re­spon­dents face dan­ger they told oth­ers to avoid

Truro Daily News - - HURRICANE IRMA - By David Bauder

It’s a para­dox of hur­ri­cane cov­er­age: peo­ple on tele­vi­sion spend days warn­ing the public to get out of harm’s way, then sta­tion their cor­re­spon­dents squarely in the mid­dle of howl­ing wind and rain and hope they don’t get hurt.

That was the case through­out Sun­day’s grip­ping cov­er­age of Hur­ri­cane Irma’s as­sault on Florida. Jour­nal­ists were the shock troops al­low­ing the na­tion to ex­pe­ri­ence the storm from the com­fort of their liv­ing rooms. Net­works all brought their top teams in on the week­end for spe­cial cov­er­age, non-stop on the news chan­nels.

Yet when a huge tree limb crashed to the ground be­hind NBC’s Gabe Gu­tier­rez, forc­ing him to scurry away dur­ing a live shot, it il­lus­trated the dan­ger many jour­nal­ists faced. Net­work ex­ec­u­tives were one fly­ing pro­jec­tile away from a tragedy that would have them fac­ing hard ques­tions about whether they were plac­ing a quest for ex­cit­ing TV and rat­ings above com­mon sense and public safety.

Sev­eral jour­nal­ists who were out­side sought the rel­a­tive se­cu­rity of build­ing bal­conies that blocked some of the wind or, like NBC’s Kerry San­ders, a con­crete park­ing garage. Yet many felt they couldn’t truly con­vey the storm’s power with­out show­ing them­selves get­ting buf­feted by the el­e­ments.

The rain “does seem like it’s get­ting shot through a fire hose at you,” said CNN’s Chris Cuomo, as­signed to Naples, Florida, as the in­tense eye wall passed over him.

NBC’s Miguel Al­ma­guer had a yel­low tow line, one end wrapped around his waist and the other around a con­crete pil­lar, to steady him as he did a live shot. ABC’s Gio Ben­itez also em­ployed a rope as he stood on a bal­cony. CNN’s Kyung Lah gripped a metal rail­ing. Other cor­re­spon­dents fre­quently strug­gled to keep their foot­ing. “I’m just tak­ing a knee for a sec­ond,” said San­ders said when the wind got too in­tense. NBC’s Jo Ling Kent seemed fear­less walk­ing around Miami Beach. CBS’s Elaine Qui­jano spied some de­bris blow­ing her way; for­tu­nately it proved only to be some palm fronds.

The wind blew The Weather Chan­nel’s Mike Bettes sev­eral steps as he stood out­side in Naples; later there was spec­u­la­tion that a small tor­nado blew be­hind him. But for a nerdy me­te­o­rol­o­gist, there was a pay­off when he spot­ted a glimpse of the sun as the hur­ri­cane’s eye passed over him.

“Af­ter get­ting beaten and bruised and bat­tered, there is the eye,” he said. “That is nice.”

Bettes’ Weather Chan­nel col­league Mike Sei­del, as­signed to Miami, seemed a gust away from real dan­ger as he sta­tioned him­self on a dock over­run by wa­ter, as wind whipped around.

“We’re go­ing to be pack­ing up and mov­ing to higher ground,” he said.

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