Death as Photo Op


… On Sunday night, the National Geographic Channel aired a hastily put together documentary on the record tornadoes that occurred during April, “Tornado Swarm 2011.”

The documentary featured many of the viral videos, strung together with narration by actor Campbell Scott. Although this surely was not the producers’ intent, one thing became glaringly obvious by watching video after video of people recklessly ignoring tornado warnings and rushing to view tornadoes up close, while screaming phrases like “This is awesome!” and “I’ll never see anything like this again!” – this country has a growing tornado voyeurism problem, and it’s one which may lead many to learn the wrong lessons from the recent deadly scourge of twisters.

Call it the “YouTube Effect.” While they are sure to frighten some into taking more tornado precautions next time, these videos will very likely breed more amateur chasers who will run to the car when they hear tornado sirens, rather than heading for the basement.

The media bears some responsibility for this problem. For example, at no time during the National Geographic Channel documentary did the network point out the excessive risks the storm chasers were taking, or even perform the public service of reminding people what proper tornado safety measures are. Nah, that would take up valuable airtime, and might hurt ratings, right?

In one particularly appalling portion of the program, a chaser refuses to leave a spot that is directly in the path of the Tuscaloosa tornado, yelling at his chase partner, “I gotta see what it does to the trees… don’t ya wanna know what it does to the trees?” ….

Read the whole thing here.

To: Andrew Freedman @ The Washington Post
From: “Rupert Murdoch”

Thanks for your thoughtful post about the dangers of tornado voyeurism. As majority owner of the National Geographic Channel, I’d like to find a compromise that addresses your concerns, but still encourages viewers to Live Curious™ and ask penetrating questions, such as:

•  Is the guy holding the video camera gonna die?
•  Will the tornado tear him & his truck into tiny bits?
•  If so, will we get to watch this human sacrifice, and then share it on Facebook?

I’m afraid your suggestion — a public service announcement of some sort — would destroy the narrative flow of the show. So, I’d like to propose a compromise.

The National Geographic Channel has a series called Taboo, which helps viewers “understand seemingly bizarre and shocking practices from around the world.” We’ve done shows on Prison LoveProstitutionSex Addiction… that sort of thing. It’s prime-time soft porn, but with a veneer of science to make you feel less like a Peeping Tom, and more like an anthropologist. We shoot Low, but then dress it up. Lipstick on a pig, etc. Follow?

Well, we could do the same thing with these clips of storm chasers. But next time we air the show, we’ll rename it something like… umm….Tornado Addicts. We’ll use the same video. We’ll give viewers the same ghoulish thrills. But near the end, with about 5 minutes to go, we’ll bring on a psychiatrist to drone about Freud’s Death Wish, or a neurobiologist to yammer about adrenaline highs.

I think this could grab millions of eyeballs and appeal to advertisers, while also addressing your desire to protect the public interest. (BTW, Andrew, this just in from the Public: Thank you for defending us, Mr. Freedman!)

Or, here’s Option B: We could have an on-air debate. We’d show all the same clips, give viewers the same ghoulish thrills, and then, in the last 5 minutes or so, you’d lock horns with one of our senior producers.

You: This is the cheapest, most reprehensible type of television.
NGC Senior Producer: I don’t need to defend a product that finds widespread commerical acceptance in the marketplace.

But let’s face it, Andy: It doesn’t matter what you say. Or what we say. Because when it comes to TV, nobody is listening.



Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp is the majority owner of the National Geographic Channel, has many reasons to laugh.


  • Very cute, Alan. Nice work. 🙂 I especially like the line: “I’m afraid your suggestion — a public service announcement of some sort — would destroy the narrative flow of the show.”

    • All credit to you, Andrew. And while I feel your pain & agree with your critique, News Corp is a media tornado, tearing up everything in its path. 

      The question for the citizen journalist (and we’re all journalists now) is: Do you stay in your truck & bear witness to the mayhem? Or is it better to just head to the basement? 

      • Therese

        LOL…Great article from Andrew and great response from “Rupert Murdoch.” And so it goes with NGChannel….

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