September 21, 2005

Rita Madness


If not a “finest hour,” the media coverage in the immediate aftermath of Katrina was at least one of the “better hours.”

With a new storm brewing off Florida and aiming for Eastern Texas, however, it appears the press is acting like underestimation is unaffordable.  As if preparing for a replay, Tuesday’s media was beginning to acquaint us with Rita like she was Katrina’s twin sister.

This new storm might well be violent, even catastrophic.  I had a few readers near the Texas Gulf write me early yesterday to say that they were being evacuated.  Regardless how it plays out however, there is already an adrenaline surge in the coverage which will only grow more intense with the likelihood of a storm surge.

For it’s home page Tuesday evening, the NYT went with this eerie shot of a wave hitting a seawall in Havana.  The early model car seems to establish a historical context — as if this year’s vengence from the sea will be marked for the ages.  (Extra credit to the reader who can identify brand, model and approximate year.)

If the Havana shot is moody, solitary and mindful of precedent, there were other shots yesterday that pulled other threads.


This image shows passengers trying emphatically to board the last Greyhound out of Key West.  If Rita turns out to be as powerful as feared, sharp eyes will recount how equitable the escape will have been for the wanting, as compared to the well off, and how it was for people of all colors and ethnicities.

Given that the photograph was taken for the Palm Beach paper, perhaps it also serves as a statement.  Maybe the local media is saying that it is watching out this time, and advocating for more equitable preparation.


Possibly evoking the South Asian Tsunami, this image (from the AP website) feels manipulative  given the anticipatory nature of this story.  I see it warning of what could befall the defenseless everyman once the storm makes land.  Visually, the image transcends the incident of this single wave, suggesting (given that the wave is larger and wider than the frame) that the scope of the threat exceeds any normal scale.  The fallen bicycle is also evocative.  Among the numerous possibilities, I see: “no escape,” “drop everything and run,” and “you can pick it up but it’s just going to get knocked right down.”


And then, just like the Rorschach card designed to induce color shock, Drudge had this NOAA image up for at least part of last evening.  As we’ve discussed in previous threads on the BAG, for people who aren’t savvy at interpreting visual scientific and technical data (which probably includes most of us), an image like this can be just terrifying.


For pure dramatic value, of course, headlines don’t get better than this.  (Although, as others have observed, Drudge is certainly not alone in pumping things up more than they are already.

(image 1 : photographer unattributed/Reuters.  September 20, 2005.  Havana, Cuba.  At  image 2 : Lannis Walters/Palm Beach Post – AP. September 20, 2005.  Key West,  Florida.  At  image 3: J. Pat Carter/AP. September 20, 2005.  Key West,  Florida.  At Image 4: Satellite image.  September 21, 2005.  via: image 5: Headline. September 20, 2005.)

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Michael Shaw
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