E.B. White on MSM and Hurricanes
Yes, I know he’s dead. And his essay, “The Eye of Edna,” is dated September 15, 1954. But reading it today, as folks refuse to evacuate again, makes me wonder if 50 years of hype hasn’t persuaded far too many people that reports of imminent disaster are just not to be believed. Excerpts:
Hurricanes are the latest discovery of radio stations and they are being taken up in a big way. To me, Nature is continuously absorbing –that is, she is a twenty-four hour proposition, fifty-two weeks of the year– but to radio people, Nature is an oddity tinged with malevolence and worthy of note only in her more violent moments. The radio either lets Nature alone or gives her the full treatment, as it did at the approach of the hurricane called Edna.
The idea, of course, is that the radio shall perform a public service by warning people of a storm that might prove fatal; and this the radio certainly does. But another effect of the radio is to work people up to an incredblie state of alarm many hours in advance of the blow, while they are still fanned by the mildest zephyrs. One of the victims of Hurricane Edna was a civil-defense worker whose heart failed him long before the wind threatened him in the least….
It became evident to me after a few fast rounds with the radio that the broadcasters had opened up on Edna awfully far in advance, before she had come out of her corner, and were spending themselves at a reckless rate. During the morning hours, they were having a tough time keeping Edna going at the velocity demanded of emergency broadcasting. I heard one fellow from, I think, Riverside, Long Island, interviewing his out-of-doors man, who had been sent abroad in a car to look over conditions on the eastern end of the island.
“How would you say the roads were?” asked the tense voice.
“They were wet,” replied the reporter who seemed to be in a sulk.
“Would you say the spray from the puddles was dashing up around the mudguards?” inquired the desperate radioman.
“Yeah,” replied the reporter.
It was one of those confused moments, emotionally, when the listener could not be quite sure what position radio was taking–for hurricanes or against them….
It is pretty clear that many among the modern successors to the radiomen of 1954 are still projecting that ambivalence as they congratulate each other on their aggressive confrontation of disaster relief officials. It will be interesting to see who pulls the first Cooper in the coverage of Rita’s aftermath.