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Did TV Save Texas?

By RD Heldenfels Published: September 26, 2005

It sure gets a vote here. Yes, Rita did not prove to be Katrina II as some early reports feared. But even if the hurricane had hit harder, the preparation for it seemed to be significantly better than it was for Katrina.

And why would that be? It's not enough to say that Katrina's destructive march through the Gulf Coast was a factor. There had been other bad hurricanes before Katrina, and they did not prompt the authorities to prepare properly. No, it was all those pictures pouring onto our TV screens from New Orleans and other areas.

Those pictures fueled public outrage. The people telling us about the pictures -- the reporters at the scene -- let their own dismay and anger show through as well. The message was simple: A horrible thing had happened. The protectors of the people screwed up.

In the days since Katrina, there have been attempts on all sides to focus blame on TV commentators' foes, and to shift it away from commentators' friends. That's nothing new. But that doesn't change the pictures. And no level of government wanted similar pictures to be coming from Texas.

So two things were clear while people awaited the storm. The first was that TV cameras were ready to record every fallen building, every flooded street, every unhappy person who was unfortunate enough to be in Rita's way. The other was that the authorities wanted as much as possible to look like they had done their job.

I won't argue that TV is the only reason Rita prep went better than that for Katrina. But it was a big one, and one the networks haven't forgotten. You're going to see the shadow of Katrina in coverage of any natural disaster for at least the next few months, as TV organizations remember how riveted people were to the images of Katrina -- and how much TV was admired for the reporting that came with the pictures.

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