Sunday, October 18, 2009

Upstaged by a runaway balloon

Imagine the city of New Orleans rolling out the red carpet for the first presidential visit of Barack Obama'a administration. Governor Bobby Jindal, Senator Mary Landrieu, Mayor Ray Nagin and a host of dignitaries are on hand to welcome the president to New Orleans for the first time since taking the nation's highest office. Cameras are rolling and reporters and correspondents are hurrying from pillar to post to cover this short stay the entire duration of which will be less than four hours in length. The New Orleans population is collectively holding its breath, hoping the coverage will draw interest from outsiders who need to know about the slow progress being made towards recovery in the city. Four years after Hurricane Katrina's landfall this is a public relations opportunity that demands worthy network coverage and insight from commentators and pundits alike. Suddenly, a news flash is broadcast. A runaway helium-filled weather balloon is aloft with a six-year-old aboard. CNN cancels its scheduled broadcast with U.S. Representative Anh Cao to cover the plight of this potential disaster. The ravenous news industry pulls out all of the stops and New Orleans and its plight takes an immediate back seat as this "high priority" news event overshadows any previously planned coverage. After two hours of non-stop network coverage, a sudden downdraft forces the balloon to the surface and inside...gasp!...there is no six-year-old. Meanwhile, the president addresses a town hall meeting and only one person - a college student - asks a question which causes President Obama to have to address the question of what the federal government is actually going to do to help the city make its recovery. Pretty soon, after several 10-second video clips have been shot by the national media to represent the city's plight and his response, the president is winging his way aboard Air Force One back to the White House. Embarrassed city and state officials have their heads spinning trying to figure out what went wrong. By the time the story of the missing six-year-old gets sorted out, it is revealed he has been hiding in a closet in a room in his house while the nation's eyes were fixed on the runaway balloon. Questions are posited about the father who constructed the balloon and whether he was using the story for his own ends or not. New Orleans loses out. So, sorry, CNN says, but they just had to cover the breaking news story. Better luck next time. In the meantime I would like to make a suggestion. The next time President Obama is set to return to New Orleans, let's put all of our city and state leaders into a lighter-than-air ship and have it break free of its mooring. I can just see the headline now:

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