Caution or cowardice?

Caution or cowardice?

(Written early this morning, but due to net-access challenges I faced in D.C., I’m just now posting it after arriving in Boston. For the record, I have about 5 options of wi-fi networks that I’m able to join from my hotel room — including the free one the Charlesmark Hotel is providing me.)

As I sit in Washington D.C.’s Union Station, I sense the anxiety of people wanting to “get out.” While Hurricane Isabel has yet to make land-fall, Amtrak is already flashing southbound train cancellations. There’s a gentle breeze outside, but inside the TV blares agency, school and business closings (in short, assume if it’s run by a government entity, it’s closed). In July, I attended a panel discussion at Stanford on the topic of “The Culture of Fear,” a title from the book of one of the panel participants. An event like this helps prove the authors notion. Humans are hardwired for anxiety and certain mass media have fine-tuned the art of feeding our hunger for a good life-threatening threat.

Those who know me will attest to my skepticism of conspiracy theories and crisis threats.. I’ve written on the topic fairly extensively and have, on occasion, taunted friends, family and colleagues about their over-reaction to fear-mongering “disasters.” A “writer-friend” of mine and columnist for MyBusiness Magazine, Harvey King, captures my attitudes precisely in this piece. While I understand the importance of taking precaution in anticipation of natural and man-made disasters, I believe the “precaution” often overtakes the disaster itself.

Here in D.C., I assume the head-for-the-bunkers mentality is understandable in the wake of 9/11, anthrax and the D.C. sniper. Bolting the doors and hiding under the bed makes one feel they are “doing something” I guess. And, in our land of the perpetual lawsuit, I guess that business and government officials know that while they can’t be blamed for an “act of God,” they can be sued for making someone commute into the middle of one.

The last few days in D.C. and the non-stop hurricane coverage reminds me of sports and news coverage in a participant-team’s hometown during the week leading up to a Super Bowl. (Can I coin a phrase here? Super Bowl Disaster?) There is no news except that the hurricane is tracking this way. And so, without “news,” the coverage becomes a ceaseless drivel of caution, color, punditry and puff.

It must be important, we “news consumers” are led to decide. “It’s all people want to hear about,” the journotainers say in defense, creating one of those perpetual dog-tail-chasing debates (“circular arguments” I believe they are called) about why media dish up what they dish up.)

(Later) I’m now on a New York City-bound Metroliner (this will be posted later, maybe at one of those wi-fi enabled Manhattan McDonalds), fleeing the storm. (Or, in my case, leaving early to beat the anticipated Amtrak mid-morning shut-down.)

Outside, there is a yellowish cloud cover, but no rain or noticeable (from a fast-moving train) wind.

Looks like a fun day to be home from school.