Only In America: When Hurricane Floyd was blown away by Hurricane Dan

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The Independent Culture
AMERICAN TELEVISION viewers were treated to a heartwarmingly familiar sight last week: the CBS anchorman Dan Rather, clad in waterproofs and dripping with rain, with a wind-lashed background. Rather (it is pronounced as in "blather") is one of the nation's most established talking heads, and his arrival in the small Georgia town of Savannah was far more exciting for many people than Hurricane Floyd itself.

Rather has an affinity with hurricanes. He made his name in 1961 when he chained himself to a tree during Hurricane Carla, and came to the attention of CBS executives. That set a pattern. Ever since, every reporter worth his waterproofs has taken it upon himself to stand out in the rain and mouth empty phrases like "the wind just keeps on building" and "the rain just keeps on coming" while the cameraman wobbles the camera a bit.

Weather is big business for the media. The Weather Channel had its biggest ever audience for Floyd - more than 1.7 million - and most of it is high- tech: rotating colour three-dimensional images of the storm, pictures taken using radar and so on. But you can't beat the Man in the Mac, and Dan is the Man. He nearly came to grief a few years ago during Hurricane Opal, when a producer had to hold his legs while the winds threatened to blow him away.

Professional meteorologists are a bit sceptical about all of this, and fear it persuades people that it's all right to hang around while the hurricane builds. One hurricane expert told USA Today: "I'm just waiting for the day that somebody does that and something flies off a power pole and decapitates him." Which brings a whole new meaning to "talking head".

Hurricane Floyd followed Mr Rather home and rolled on to Manhattan, though it had run out of steam by the time it got there.

SO, BY the sound of things, had the fashion editors who were in town for Fashion Week. The New York Observer told us that we were all so tired of fashion - it told us so at enormous length, in fact, in a 2000-word lead article.

THE NEW York Observer is a cross between Private Eye, Tatler and the Evening Standard if you can imagine such a thing, but it does have an ability to elevate the most trivial of subjects into major breaking news stories.

Last week they interviewed Jon Corzine, the incredibly wealthy former chairman of Goldman Sachs, who may run for the vacant Senate seat in New Jersey. They asked him all the tough questions, and he replied. "I've had it for 21 years," he said. "I would be sending a signal that I wasn't who I was if I shaved the beard. If that's why people don't like me, then I've failed in communicating both who I am and what I'm about."

ANOTHER WEALTHY man, Viacom boss Sumner Redstone, 76, is facing a more difficult set of choices. His wife of 52 years, Phyllis, wants to divorce him, and she wants quite a lot of money in recompense: $3bn.

It is not the first time she has done this: the last time, Viacom was in the thick of a takeover battle with home shopping network QVC. This time, Viacom is in talks with CBS, and once again the news caused a frisson on Wall Street. Perhaps the definition of real power in America is when your personal life moves the market.

THE BEHAVIOUR of "a certain Manhattan mogul and his extraordinary new lady" moved the guests at Conrad Black's smart Washington dinner to something closer to disgust last week, according to the New York Post. Their antics "seemed to have to do with the `lady' rearranging the napkin on the mogul's lap," the Post said.

Katherine Graham, of the Washington Post, was heard to mutter: "Why don't they just go outside and do that?" Whoever can it have been?