Everyone tuned to CNN's Hurricane Sandy coverage couldn't help but be riveted by images of correspondent Ali Velshi reporting from an Atlantic City intersection as the storm made landfall. Anchors returned to him repeatedly for hours. Several gusts of wind nearly toppled him. Flood water rose to his waist. As CNN alternated between shots from Atlantic City and a damaged crane in Manhattan that threatened to fall onto neighboring buildings, a Twitter user captured the moment:
"Hi, Ali, this is CNN HQ. Get out of that flooded street IMMEDIATELY. There's a crane in Manhattan we need you to go stand under."-- delrayser (@delrayser) October 30, 2012
Standing under a teetering crane would've made for riveting television too. As would surfing the storm surge on an old-school wooden long board. But none of it wouldn't have added news value. And neither did Velshi's exploits. "We've done this before, and we know how to keep safe," he assured viewers, explaining that he sought to show others how dangerous conditions were.
His reasoning is flawed.
The notion that it is safe to stand in waist high floodwater and gale force winds, given a bit of experience, is nonsense. And it undercuts rather than strengthens the message that people should stay inside. How many CNN viewers said to themselves, "Look at those reporters. They're fine. I'm going to go outside and check out the storm for myself." I submit CNN correspondents inspired that reaction with more frequency than they scared anyone out of danger.