The word of the day is: Gustav. This hurricane has impacted Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Cuba and is now bearing down on Louisiana. It is almost three years to the day since Hurricane Katrina followed a similar path through the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and through New Orleans. When media outlets began covering this storm last week I thought the attention was a bit premature. Today, with the hurricane a couple hundred miles off the coast of Louisiana and the National Hurricane Center predicting the storm should grow in strength before it makes landfall, I think the hurricane coverage is more appropriate.
In light of the storm’s approach on Louisiana, the Republican National Committee and the McCain campaign today decided to significantly curtail the extent of their national convention. We had been warned that these changes might take place and they outlined the specifics for us at 3:00 pm this afternoon. Tomorrow the convention will begin as scheduled, but in abbreviated fashion. They will ensure a quorum to do business, constitute the convention and fulfill the basic minimal requirements necessary to make the convention a legal and binding event in the political process. Nothing more. No political rhetoric. No additional activity.
Going forward the RNC will hold a political briefing each day at noon with the specific details of the schedule of events they have planned for that day– and that day only. They are approaching this set of circumstances on a day-by-day basis. The carefully-scripted playbook of speeches and entertainment has been tossed out the window. I was quite interested to learn that this is the first time a national convention has been altered due to external concerns like a natural disaster.
Michael Brown had an interesting quote published today. Michael Brown led FEMA during Katrina. He was forced to resign his position shortly after that storm as the extent of the agency’s failings became clear. Yesterday, the Associated Press quoted Brown as saying, “You don’t play politics with disasters.”
This was a very different sort of day than the evening before the DNC in Denver. — I have commented several times on the difference in tone around the site, and now external factors have tossed a new variable into the mix. I spoke with a number of reporters, engineers and photographers in our temporary bureau, trying to get an idea of their feelings about these changes. Many of them were anxious to get to Louisiana and cover that. I eavesdropped as Jim outfitted the Los Angeles Times Midwest Bureau Chief, P.J. Huffstutter, with a satellite phone and portable video camera. I talked briefly with her about why she desired to go to Louisiana. She had covered rural Louisiana and Mississippi after Katrina and Rita three years ago and said that while the work was difficult and unpleasant– hot, loud, living out of a car– the stories were incredibly compelling.
One of my personal goals with this project is to get a small sense of what it is like to work in a newsroom. And for a little while today on the first official day of production I got that wish. I hope I will expand on that experience over the next several days.
Wish me luck.