Hurricane Gustav made landfall south and west of New Orleans today as a Category 2 storm. This was down from the Category 3 classification last night. Many meteorologists expected Gustav to grow in strength to Category 4 rather than lessen. So the hurricane made landfall with strong winds, rain, tornadoes and storm surge of 6-8 feet. We’ll see what sort of long-term impact the storm has for Louisiana and Texas over the next several days, but initial reports seem to indicate that this hurricane has not had the dramatic effect that Katrina and Rita did three years ago. I may be premature, but I suspect that its impact on the Republican National Convention in St. Paul will be minimal and shortly the convention will return to its more typical course of events.
Rather than Gustav, the big story of the morning at “The X” is Bristol Palin. Bristol is the 17 year-old daughter of Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin. Bristol is five-months pregnant. Apparently this story came to light today in an attempt by the McCain campaign to rebut the rumors that Palin’s youngest child was actually her daughter’s. Steve Schmidt, McCain’s senior campaign strategist, was outside our workspace talking about the news. What began as a small group of 3 quickly grew into 20 or more. To the point where the crash of journalists and photographers threatened to knock down our temporary walls. Inevitably the media tried to get a reaction quote from Barack Obama. Obama responded in a way that reminded me of Bill Clinton, “I have said it before and I will repeat it again: people’s families are off limits. People’s children are especially off limits. This shouldn’t be part of politics.” He refused to say anything about Bristol Palin. Meanwhile, I overheard Aaron Zitner, an editor for the Los Angeles Times, say regarding the timing of the story, “Just when I wake up and say no one should be working on deadline today. We’ve been working all these days straight. The campaign serves up something just so incredible.”
So, go out there and read the papers, find out all the rest of the scandal. These people are working hard to bring it to you.
I do want to go back to the hurricane for a moment. I have been waiting for someone to bring up this issue once the coverage of the hurricane started ramping up earlier this week. Waiting and waiting and waiting and it never came. Until today, I finally saw someone raise it– if only briefly. CNN has been going to James Carville for both political analysis and background about Louisiana where he grew up. In a morning interview today, Carville was the first major journalist I’ve seen bring up the issue of the loss of the Louisiana wetlands.
Louisiana contains a quarter of the vegetated wetlands and 40 percent of the tidal wetlands in the lower 48. These critical natural systems are being lost. And they are being lost at incredible rate through a complicated alamgam of causes. When I say lost, I mean that literally. Lost. Gone. Goodbye. Not coming back. These wetlands are disappearing underwater. Into the Gulf of Mexico. Carville described it as the greatest ecological crisis facing the United States today. The trend, while accelerated in recent generations, is not new. These wetlands serve a number of valuable ecological functions. One of those functions is to stand as a protective barrier for the inland areas of the state. They function as a buffer, absorbing much of the impact of the sea, tropical storms and hurricanes. Carville briefly mentioned that when he was in college, a storm the size of Hurricane Gustav would not have been of much concern. Most of the hurricane’s energy would have been spent on the wetlands. Today, with that barrier deteriorating, a greater amount of the storm’s full strength must be borne out by the man-made infrastructure surrounding the cities– the levees of New Orleans, for example.
I bring this up here because energy policy and environmental policy are two important items being discussed by both parties at their conventions. And for me, these two issues are two I feel the most passionate about. They are complicated issues and do not have easy solutions. I respect people who approach theses topics with reason, grace and understanding. And I remain hopeful that politicians of both major parties begin to understand that these policies– these topics– have real-world, direct impact upon the quality of lives of those they represent.
This next item is tangentially related to the previous ones on a personal level to me. I mentioned that one of my goals with doing technology support for our coverage of the political conventions was to experience a day in the life of a newsroom. To see a story germinate and grow from idea to story, to headline and live shot. I wanted to see this, now, because I believe journalism– as a business– is under attack. And I believe it may be the business of news media that is attacking the very production of the story. A story about regaining ones home by Said Rifai of the Los Angeles Times foreign bureau in Baghdad strikes me as a clear example of the sort of journalistic work that is threatened. This was not a headline story. It ran on the inside of the Section A below the fold. This story, in itself, will not sell more newspapers. Or generate substantial revenue through click-throughs on the website– despite the thundering hordes of views this entry will send that way. It is a good story, a compelling story. I encourage you to read it. Because these are the facts of the business model many news media companies are facing today.
That story may not be in tomorrow’s edition. By tomorrow it very well may have slipped into the water. Maybe these sorts of stories will last a week, or even a year. But if it does disappear we all will be poorer for its loss.
Finally, I would like to wish my child bride, Whirl, a very happy birthday today. I am sorry I could not be there to celebrate it with you. I promise I will be home soon. I love you!
And yes, I still remember our deal. I promise.