Storm clouds as networks scramble


As soon-to-be Hurricane Gustav churns toward New Orleans, the first network big names are leaving the political conventions for the hurricane zone.

CNN's Anderson Cooper is departing Denver for New Orleans a few hours after the Democratic National Convention concludes. He's one of several CNN staffers headed to the many places the hurricane might make landfall in the U.S.

Other networks also are planning to move more resources from Denver, St. Paul, Minn. —the site of the Republican National Convention — and New York to the best guestimate of landfall. For the past several days, that's been New Orleans. Today is the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,700 people and displaced about half a million.

Cooper said things appear to have gotten better in the region during the past seven months. He said that he was shocked when he heard about Gustav.

"To have it be on the third anniversary of Katrina, if you wrote it in a script or in a book, you wouldn't believe it," Cooper said.

NBC is dispatching Lester Holt and other reporters. Holt was back in New York after spending the past month in Beijing covering the Olympics. NBC declined comment on whether anchor Brian Williams, who also reported for a long time from New Orleans, would go south or stay for the RNC.

The majority of the news media's focus this week and next has been on the Republican and Democratic conventions. Each network already had two separate operations — one in Denver and the other in St. Paul — that had to be fully staffed because the conventions are back-to-back.

Now it's become even more complicated with the hurricane. On any day, it would be a big story — no doubt even more so if it hit New Orleans.

Then there's the matter of Sen. John McCain's vice presidential pick, which also could happen. And today, there will be the morning-after coverage of Barack Obama's acceptance speech and the end of the DNC.

"It's going to be one crazy, crazy day," said Zev Shalev, executive producer of CBS' "The Early Show."

That means the careful planning of months and months could be wiped away.

ABC News dispatched Terry McCarthy and several crews south for the hurricane.

For NBC, it's been even busier than everyone else because of its massive effort to televise the Olympics. NBC also is the pool network for the RNC, requiring even more resources.

"Many of our people coming back from Beijing are going directly to St. Paul," NBC News special events chief Phil Alongi said. Others are leaving Denver early to head to the projected path of Gustav. (partialdiff)