May 05, 2003

Putting A New Spin on

Putting A New Spin on Tornadoes

I often wonder if the mass media newsrooms of today all feature huge wall calendars that roughly outline when the usual destructive weather patterns are expected to roll through. The hurricane season is marked in red, likely winter storms are tentatively shaded blue, and the tornado season is highlighted in gray. When a slow news day rolls around, news agencies scramble to the wall calendar to see if there's any weather-related news they can fall back on.

DAN RATHER: What's all this crap I'm supposed to read about a little boy being reunited with his sister after a week at band camp? What kind of news is this?

NEWS EXEC: That's all we got, Dan. It's pretty quiet out there today.

DAN RATHER: Oh, come on! Surely a Palestinian blew himself up or something. There must be a looting update out of Iraq.

NEWS EXEC: Nope. I guess we could consult the weather calendar. *tears down April, revealing May tornado season*

DAN RATHER: Huzzah! It's tornado season! Of course! Get me updates, man. I need updates.

NEWS EXEC: I'm on it! Hot dog! Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee were all hit: 32 killed, eight missing! Let's get you in make-up, Dan!

I certainly don't mean to make light of tornadoes, or hurricanes, or heavy downpours, but something on the Fox News Web Site (motto: Get Lost liberals; You're Not Wanted Here!) made me pause. Their lead item showed a picture of a destroyed section of a town (I'm guessing a trailer park), and the story headline was a quote from a resident: "It Was Absolutely Terrible!"

Really? A tornado was terrible? Who would have thought? Just once I'd like to hear a resident say something like, "Wow! That was fucking awesome! There was all this wind and noise and twirling and swirling, and there was the whooshing and howling and the mmm--GLAvin!"

But beyond that, I find it odd how journalists writing about weather events feel compelled to so liberally use hyberbole and personification. Consider the Fox News example:

PIERCE CITY, Mo — A swarm of tornadoes tore through the Midwest Sunday, killing at least 28 people in Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee.

Now, just for the record, tornadoes don't swarm. Bees swarm. Locusts swarm. Tornadoes are not riled up by a curious eight-year old poking a stick into a cloud hive. Tornadoes tend to coalesce at random spots at random times rather than attacking large areas to protect their queen tornado.

Houses across the region were knocked off foundations, trees were uprooted, power lines littered roadways and travelers were forced to huddle in underground tunnels at Kansas City's main airport.

This is actually a standard sentence interjected into all tornado-related news stories. Writers simply fill in the appropriate blanks. For exampe: "Houses across the region were knocked off foundations, trees were uprooted, power lines littered roadways and travelers were forced to huddle in ___________ at ____________ main ___________."

I really can't belittle any more of the article, mainly because it talks mostly about how people were killed and injured, and that's not all that funny.

Posted by Ryan at May 5, 2003 11:17 AM
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