This News Anchor's Hurricane Matthew Warning Is The Worst Type Of Fear-Mongering
Hurricane Matthew is shaping up to be one of the most severe storms in a decade, and it’s projected to hit Florida on Thursday. Winds are expected to reach 140 miles per hour, making Matthew a Category 4 storm, and evacuation orders have been issued in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. This is legitimately dangerous, and everybody in the affected areas should be taking the situation seriously — but one Fox News anchor's fear-mongering description of Hurricane Matthew isn’t the best way to drive this home.
Make no mistake about it: A Category 4 storm is very serious business, and contrary to what some baseless conspiracies floating around Twitter may try to suggest, it’s not a hoax created by the National Weather Service to make a point about global warming. Everybody living in areas that have been issued evacuation orders should take those orders incredibly seriously.
However, there are both tactful and tasteless ways to emphasize this point. Fox News’ Shepard Smith gave us a textbook case of the latter approach, telling viewers Thursday that once the storm hits, “you and everyone you know are dead.” Just for good measure, he added that “your kids die, too.” And his delivery of that unnecessarily grim message was just as awful.
“This moves 20 miles to the west, and you and everyone you know are dead,” Smith said, grinning inexplicably. “You can’t survive it. It’s not possible, unless you’re very, very lucky. And your kids die, too!”
The biggest problem was that Smith’s phrasing strongly implied that death-by-Matthew was not a risk, but an inevitability. Suggesting that death simply is inescapable is not a good way to motivate folks to actually take safety precautions. The line about residents’ kids dying was also completely unnecessary, serving only to terrify parents. And — this can't go unmentioned — what was with that smile on his face? This isn’t a situation that merits smiling, and indeed, that smile undercut the very point he was making.
To be sure, it is important that the severity of Hurricane Matthew be adequately communicated in news reports. It’s common for residents of Hurricane-stricken areas to refuse evacuation orders: According to the New York Times, around 5 percent of people who’ve been told to evacuate during any given hurricane will refuse to do so. And fear, in any number of situations, is often an effective motivator.
But Smith’s brand of fear-based motivation overshot the mark significantly. It may have been well-intended — but if you want to help people survive a hurricane, you shouldn’t tell them that survival is “not possible.” This is a hurricane, after all, not the literal apocalypse. And there's still hope for people in affected areas to reach safety.