Batten down the hatches! Nail the boards to the windows! Buy six month's worth of groceries, fill up 40 containers with gasoline and head for the hills! Hurricane Dean's a comin' to Fort Myers!
Well, uh, actually, Hurricane Dean's probably not coming to Fort Myers, or anywhere close to it. But you wouldn't know that if you checked out the city's paper of record, and my former employer, The News-Press. The banner across the top of their Web site makes it look as though they've turned their newsroom into the "Hurricane Dean Tracking Center," and that idea is reinforced by a Dean item in their top stories and a banner showing five different maps directly below. (Two of the maps from Friday afternoon are shown above.) Never mind that those maps show there's less than a five percent chance we'll feel hurricane force winds from this system. Better safe than sorry, right?
Wrong. Though The News-Press is far from alone in the fear-mongering local news culture, and certainly not the only ones trumping up needless panic over Hurricane Dean, they nonetheless should be held accountable for their role in exploiting people's rightful concerns during hurricane season by crying wolf and in so doing, discouraging the very sort of RESERVED vigilance that can help save lives and property during storms that do hit.
News organizations are just a few of the companies that stand to profit from a threatening storm. Storm shutter salespeople, plywood distributors, generator manufacturers and gas companies are just a few of the folks who make a living off of others' fear and misery. It's a dirty business, and it ought to be an illegal business. No one should profit from fear. No one should profit from suffering. There should be no incentive, monetarily or otherwise, for using the threat of disaster as a hammer over the heads of those in the line of fire. How we go about discouraging such shameful opportunism on a broad, public-policy level is another topic for another time, but those with decision-making power over such media outlets as The News-Press should have the courage and good judgment to declare themselves above the fray and forego special graphics and blanket coverage in the absence of reasonable warrant.