Before we plunge into the icy waters of our next column, we must take a minute to reexamine our comments of a few weeks ago, when we described our admiration for the national correspondents who braved the flood waters of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to provide the insight that some of our appointed officials could not.
We joined that chorus of praise. But now, after months with Katrina, weeks with Rita, and long hard days with Wilma, we have to think twice about those reporters who join us in our living rooms during these meteorological catastrophes. In New Orleans, as we recall, they were there after the storm, showing the damage and documenting the failings of the relief effort.
Now they are there in the eye of the storm, dodging debris as it flies through the turbulent air, clutching the nearest street lamp to keep from being blown away, comparing themselves — as one television reporter did the other night — to Noah on his ark as it is tossed and turned in the highest seas. I know we have reached a Category 5 media storm when I see cable anchor Aaron Brown in the studio asking the windblown Anderson Cooper, son of Gloria Vanderbilt, on the scene in Florida, how he would compare Wilma to Katrina.
Cooper for an instant appears at a loss for words. But in true television style he quickly crafts a sound bite: It is the backside of Wilma, he says, that impresses him. Even after the eye has passed the storm’s brutal force continues.
So other than to admire Wilma’s backside, I wonder, why are these journalists standing like fools in the middle of these maelstroms? Why don’t they follow the advice of their own anchormen and weather people who drone on for days before the storm urging everyone to heed evacuation orders? The answer can probably be quantified: If Category 3 hurricane suddenly rises to a Category 5 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, that means that winds rise from the 111 to 130-m.p.h. range to the over 155-m.p.h. range.
Our bet is that the increase in audience ratings is more or less proportional. And when the first television reporter gets killed or maimed by a flying object during a hurricane, we are going to ask one simple question: Why wasn’t he wearing a helmet? Now onto our less-than-heroic reporting for the week.
Two weeks ago (that was Rita’s time, remember Rita?) we promised to sort out some of the facts regarding two stories covered recently in U.S. 1. One concerned Scott Shields and his 9/11 rescue dog, Bear. Every paper in town, including this one, has written glowing articles about Shields and his dog. But out of the blue afterward came an anonymous E-mail saying that Shields isn’t what he claims to be. We are still sitting in the eye of that one, trying to sort out the facts, which will be presented in this space as soon as possible.
The other story was about the photo exhibit in Hopewell documenting the life of Julia Tavalaro, the woman who had been paralyzed by a stroke and then spent 14 years struggling to find a way to communicate with the outside world. Wanting to know more about Julia’s life and circumstances, I contacted the Princeton-based photographer, Joanna Tully. She provided the background that was included in the October 12 column. A few days later she followed up:
“I really appreciate that you took the time to call me and ask some questions and that you gave her story attention. I remember thinking when I first met Julia: Who is she? Is she the beautiful woman before the stroke? Is she the mute quadriplegic? Which. And it made me think about my favorite poem.”
The poem is “Among School Children” by W.B. Yeats, too long to reprint here, but some readers may recall the poem that ends “O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
With the Yeats poem, Tully sent two poems that Julia had written in her physically disabled state. This one caught my eye:
For Michael in Ward B
Take your medicine with your tea
Swallow it down screaming
I can hear you from way down the hall
Is it Polish?
Even though you can sing instead
Tell me about your pain
The woman who stopped visiting
So many months ago
An eternity ago
You know what it’s like
To be thrown away
Sing about it
Let me know that I am not alone
It will be a song
Just for me
A nice poem, I think. I turn back to the televised images of Wilma, the newsmen trapped in their ratings war, screaming in the storm, just for me.