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Hurricane Gustav: Convention vs. Storm Coverage

With Hurricane Gustav bearing down on the Gulf Coast, news divisions with considerable personnel and resources earmarked for the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. have mobilized for what could be the biggest storm since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans.

“[Katrina] is in the back of everybody’s minds,” said Jay Wallace, vice president of news editorial product at Fox News. “We’ve covered every storm more aggressively since Katrina. We’re covering a two-front story now.”

Wallace, who was in New Orleans three years ago covering Katrina with anchor Shepard Smith, said the network has ten crews with several correspondents in various locations in Mississippi and Louisiana. Smith will report live from New Orleans for Fox Report. Geraldo Rivera also is also live from New Orleans. Brit Hume will remain in St. Paul.

“We’re here in this massive studio that we’ve built in St. Paul,” added Wallace, “but right now we’re all calling our meteorologists back in New York and looking at our weather maps.”

Hurricane Gustav is expected to make landfall Tuesday. The Republican Party announced that the convention, which was to start Monday, Sept. 1, would be suspended or perhaps delayed and compressed into two days instead of the planned four.

Sen. John McCain was touring a federal disaster relief center in Jackson. Miss., on Sunday when he said: “We must redirect our efforts from the really celebratory event of the nomination of president and vice president of our party to acting as all Americans.”

“[The GOP] clearly realizes that this is uncharted territory,” said David Bohrman, CNN’s Washington bureau chief. “It’s going to need to be a convention unlike any other convention. But the Republicans know that they can’t be seen celebrating while people in the Gulf are suffering and fighting for their lives. They know they need to play on a day- to-day basis.”

Only official business will proceed on Monday. President George W. Bush, who was to speak on Monday, and Vice President Dick Cheney, had already demurred.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper left for New Orleans on Friday. He'll continue to anchor 360 from the region. Wolf Blitzer and the political team will remain in St. Paul.

Meanwhile, the broadcast networks are taking no chances. They're getting their anchors in place early with NBC's Brian Williams, ABC's Charles Gibson and CBS' Katie Couric arrived in the region on Sunday.

“The primary lesson that we learned [from Katrina] is you go in early and you move aggressively and you send experienced people because this is dangerous,” said Steve Capus, president NBC News.

The network has five crews in the region, said Capus. Brian Williams will lead Gustav coverage for NBC and MSNBC. NBC News also will utilize the considerable resources of the newly acquired Weather Channel. Tom Brokaw meanwhile will remain in St. Paul to handle RNC coverage.

Gibson will report live from New Orleans for World News at least through Monday while George Stephanopoulos will continue to report from St. Paul.

Couric will anchor the Evening News from New Orleans beginning Monday. Additionally, CBS News will have several correspondents in the Gulf region including Cynthia Bowers, Randall Pinkston, Byron Pitts and Dave Price.