By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
12:15 PM EDT, August 29, 2012
With Gary Tuchman in Haiti and Anderson Cooper on the ground in New Orleans, no one covered Isaac better that CNN. By Wednesday morning, the Atlanta-base news channel was the only place to be for coverage of the storm.
But Tuesday night, when it was a tough editorial call between the storm and the GOP convention, Fox News also seemed to have a very good feel for the huge importance of this weather story.
Give credit to the producers and managers at Fox for not only moving Shepard Smith and other correspondents and camera teams into place on the Gulf this week, but also for understanding and journalistically responding to the fact Tuesday night that the storm was about to become a huge story -- as big or bigger than the convention.
And as much as Fox might have wanted to give the convention non-stop celebratory coverage for ideological reasons, the channel cut into that airtime to do some real journalism in the Gulf.
Fox was especially strong in the early evening Tuesday with Smith in the city of New Orleans and Casey Stegall on the waterfront.
Stegall was positioned amid high winds and surging water. He stumbled up to a bridge and showed from the water level how it would soon be submerged. He had the camera pan the other way toward Lake Pontchartrain to another bridge that he predicted would remain open thanks to the post-Katrina work of the Army Corps of Engineers. It was dramatic and informative.
"It doesn't look like you're going to be able to stay there much longer, Case," Smith said taking note of the surging water.
I know Cooper was out in the storm for CNN -- and he had been there longer than anyone.
But here's how CNN hurts itself: Twice when I cut back to CNN from Fox Tuesday night, I came upon Piers Morgan -- once interviewing Jeb Bush, and then again, serving as anchor or moderator for a discussion with John King, David Gergen and Gloria Borger. All of this was from the GOP convention.
As much as I consider Gergen, Borger and King to be three of the best political analysts in the world, the presence of Morgan sent me instantly clicking back to Fox for more storm coverage -- rather than sticking with CNN until Cooper came on.
However, here's a look at what Cooper and CNN were doing with the storm Tuesday night. It was dramatic, thorough, exemplary TV storytelling.
Cooper can be a little show biz and hotdog at times for my taste, but when he is on the ground doing work like this, he is superb. In fact, there are few journalists on TV anywhere in his league.
And let's not forget O'Brien who anchored Wednesday morning in the rain. I'm sure some weenie, wannabe bloggers with no journalistic experience will make snarky wisecracks about journalists like O'Brien Wednesday morning standing in the storm and getting pounded by the wind and the rain.
But those images are the quintessential distillation of both journalistic and human engagement with the fury of nature. They tell the story like no words, weathercast or analysis from a studio can. Here's praise to not just the headliners, but all the journalists and photographers out in the storm, reporting this story, like Ed Lavandera at CNN.
And Kudos to CNN for making the early call in deploying the channel's considerable resources to cover Isaac -- and then doing it so impressively.
Isaac is a tropical storm not a hurricane anymore. But that doesn't mean it is not still a major story of life and possible death for citizens in the Gulf. I hope at least CNN and Fox will continue to cover it as they have.
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