With Hurricane Gustav gaining strength in the Caribbean as Republicans prepare to gather in Minnesota, television networks are scrambling to get people in place to cover both stories at once.
The networks are deploying correspondents across the Gulf Coast in case Gustav slams the region with the same force that Hurricane Katrina did in 2005.
Meantime, the Republican National Convention is set to begin in St. Paul on Monday.
The competing stories may create a bind for the networks’ top talent. Anderson Cooper, who was one of CNN’s main anchors for the Democratic convention, went to New Orleans on Friday to mark the third anniversary of Katrina. If Gustav stays on course, he plans to stick around.
“I’m not sure all the suits I have packed for the Republican convention will be appropriate, but I’ll just make do,” said Cooper, who garnered attention for his raw, on-the-ground reporting of the devastation caused by Katrina.
Even if he skips the Republican convention, Cooper said, the four-day political event will get its fair share of coverage on the cable network.
“We have so many people I can disappear from the air and, frankly, it’s no great loss,” he said.
The situation is trickier for broadcast anchors such as Brian Williams, who is not only the face of NBC news but also someone who has pushed the network to devote substantial resources to covering post-Katrina New Orleans. As of Friday, no decision had been made about whether Williams would go to the region if the storm proved devastating.
ABC is deploying half a dozen correspondents across the Gulf Coast this weekend in preparation for the storm, but none who would have been covering the Republican convention, said Kate O’Brian, senior vice president for news.
Still, the networks may choose to break into their nightly one-hour convention specials with news about the storm.
“If this becomes a huge, monstrous story, we’ll make a game-time assessment,” O’Brian said.
GOP officials may decide to postpone the convention rather than see images of Gustav’s devastation juxtaposed with those of partying Republicans. That could remind voters of the Bush administration’s delayed response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago.