TV weather forecasters air another snow job

This Just In...

March 07, 2001|By DAN RODRICKS

"I WAS STANDING IN the paint aisle at Home Depot, Perring Plaza, Monday morning," reports TJI reader Mat Lam, "and I overheard an old lady -- she had to be in her 80s -- ask an employee if any decent snow shovels were left to buy. After hearing that there weren't, the old lady said, `Well, then where can I find the Marty Bass and Norm Lewis dartboards?' "

And how about a Bob Turk punching bag? Or one of those squeezable, gel-filled stress balls shaped like Tommy Tasselmyer?

What was that line of Shakespeare's? "First thing we do, let's kill all the weathermen."

Pardon me while I join the chorus of ranters after another weekend of overwrought "weather coverage."

What the self-conscious and self-serving TV news people conveniently forget is that they did the dicey -- they tried to predict on Friday what would happen on Monday or even Tuesday, and they did so in dire terms. That's what led to panic-buying of bread and toilet paper starting early Saturday. That's why snowanoid Baltimoreans are so annoyed: They got snookered again.

The three TV stations I watched all "covered" the "approaching massive storm" with another round of those contrived news reports about preparations for disaster and the usual advisories on keeping flashlight batteries and a supply of potable water on hand. You could hear blood pressures rising all over Baltimore.

When, in the end, big snow didn't happen -- for at least the second time this winter -- Tom, Bob, Norm, et al. had egg on their faces. And all I can say is: You want scrapple with that, hon?

It's not all their fault. No matter how diligent the TV meteorologists might be, no matter how many qualifiers they use in their forecasts, they can't control their news departments. The meteorologist mentions "snow" to some gamine assistant news director, and it's like Dr. Frankenstein screaming, "It's alive!" The news crews go into a predictable, nutty drill -- live shots from streets that "might soon be covered with up to two feet of snow," reports from grim government officials on their emergency preparations, video clips from previous storms, sensational graphics -- and the "scientists" have no control.

Why should anyone be surprised that people hit the supermarkets -- and cancel dinner reservations and most of life -- when TV makes it sound like there's no tomorrow?

If the TV heads get sick of this criticism, too bad. I'm sure they can hack it, buffered by the profits they make off the public's hysteria. Advertising has been flat the last couple of months, winter is almost over. That was no snowstorm. That was a ratings spike.

Goodwill toward men

Any woman who has had her purse stolen -- and, all right, any guy who has had his purse stolen -- knows what a pain that is. Driver's license, credit cards, checkbook, currency, priceless photograph of your daughter in a soccer outfit -- it all disappears. It all must be replaced, and quickly. Worst of all, it means another trip to the Motor Vehicle Administration to replace your driver's license.(There I go again: Making the MVA sound like a terrible place when, in fact, it's simply a place of service that must be visited now and then -- like going to the dentist, only the lines are longer and, instead of magazines, you read emissions control brochures.)

Kristen Ivory, who works in the office of a nonprofit organization in Charles Village, had a streak of bad luck recently. Someone lifted her wallet from her desk. Workplace thefts always leave you feeling creepy, if not depressed.

Ivory immediately went into the post-larceny drill --phone calls canceling credit cards, a trip to the bank to cancel her old checking account and to open a new one, followed by a morning trip to the MVA at Mondawmin.

"I got to the MVA just as the doors opened and moved fairly quickly through three different lines," Ivory says. "After an hour, I was at the cashier awaiting the final step, the dreaded driver's license photograph, and wrote out my check for $20. The woman behind the thick plastic looked at my check, pushed it back and said, `We don't take starter checks.'

"I told her that I didn't have my new checks or credit cards yet, and didn't have a replacement ATM card. I didn't have much cash because I didn't think there would be a problem writing a check at the MVA. ... Didn't make any difference. She pushed the check at me and said, `We don't take starter checks.'

"I asked her if she was going to make me come back and go through all the lines again over $20," Ivory continued. "Her reply was, `Yes.' I was near tears at this point because of all the frustrations of the theft, having no access to money, no identification."

Just then, a young guy spoke up from another line. He was in his 20s, tall, with brown hair. He wore a black T-shirt and baggy corduroys. Ivory describes him as "crunchy," as in granola; he struck her as earthy, like a Green Peacenik. He had a credit card in his hands.

"He handed his credit card over two lines and told the woman at my counter to pay for my driver's license with it," Ivory says. "I looked at him and said, `Oh, my God, are you sure?' He said, `Of course, don't worry about it.' I had one more starter check in my book, and he agreed to take it. We had our photos taken and went our separate ways.' "

His name was Darren Gray. That's all Ivory knows about him. That, and that he's a good soul who helped her get back something -- "My faith in the goodness of humankind," she calls it -- that someone else had stolen.

Wednesday break

This is my last Wednesday column for a while. I am dropping it to free up time for other assignments for The Sun. The Monday and Friday columns will appear as usual. Keep in touch. is the e-mail address for Dan Rodricks. He can also be reached at 410-332-6166.

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