Saturday, September 4, 2010

Brian Williams Is Chicken Little

Did anyone else burst out laughing when Brian Williams began Friday's Nightly News by saying that, "Last night at this time, it was the biggest storm on the planet. But in a fortunate and welcome turn of events, the Hurricane named Earl, once a raging and grinding category 4, is tonight barely a category 1." If people were so worried about Earl, it's because Brian made them that way by building it up to gigantic proportions. All week long, he huffed and puffed about the "monster hurricane" that was going to destroy us all. On Wednesday he said, "We have a major storm making its climb up the east coast tonight...This storm is back up to a category 4--it has not made the turn to the north--30 million people give or take along the east coast have got to now hope for that turn to the north to avoid a direct hit in any one place." And on Thursday he said, "It's heading north--it's a storm as big as the state of California. Ocean waves at the center of this have been 29 feet high." This is sensationalism at its worst. But of course, that was Brian's intention. By scaring viewers, rather than reporting in a balanced manner, he ensures that more people will tune in to his broadcast to find out about Earl. Fear and panic equal ratings. And let's not forget the CYA (cover your ass) factor. The rule of the news industry is to always make a storm sound much worse than it is. It is a far more egregious error for a news broadcast to underreport a storm than to overreport it. If Brian underreported Earl, he would look like an idiot for failing to recognize the storm's power. Furthermore, he would alienate viewers who would be angry that Brian neglected to give them fair warning about the storm. But exaggerating Earl's effects (as Brian did all week) carries no penalty. It's easy to build the storm up as a huge monster, and then just say never mind--it took a turn out to sea and failed to cause any major damage. This is Brian's philosophy regarding all news. Sensationalize it. Make people scared so they keep tuning in. Simply reporting the facts won't attract nearly as many viewers as screaming that the sky is falling. Brian Williams is Chicken Little.

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