In many spots along the mediascape, we now have a bunch of genuinely thoughtless criticism of media coverage and politicians, all centered around allegations that these people hyped up and tried to cash in on this natural disaster.
Sure, TV news in particular covers hurricanes with too little data, too little understanding of uncertainty and margin of error, and too much footage of reporters trying to stand upright in strong winds. And yes, they have a vested interest in keeping people tuned in (though WNBC, which is mostly what we watched, went largely or totally commercial-free for large chunks of time). And absolutely, the media definitely could have provided more coverage of decidedly-not-NYC areas (North Carolina and Vermont, in particular) where the storm seems to have had much more severe impacts.
But to the critics who are deriding extensive coverage and thoughtful preparation because the storm wasn’t as bad as it might have been: Shut the hell up.
One such cynic is Toby Harnden of the Telegraph (UK)—which I normally like quite a lot—who derides the “Perfect Storm of Hype.” He derides NJ Gov. Christie for his claims that the storm could cause tens of billions in damage and that his evacuation likely saved lives.
The problem with Harnden’s derision? Both claims were quite true at the time and have proven prescient since. Estimates of property losses are already around $7 billion to $13 billion, and several rivers (including some in NJ) are still rising. Despite many pols’ repeated pleas to stay out of the water, the NYPD still had to fish two kayakers out of the river in the middle of the storm. If more people had “just carried on as normal” as Harnden thinks was appropriate, more rescues like that (though perhaps none involving such utter idiocy) and more deaths doubtlessly would have occurred.
Our next cynic is Daily Beast (again, usually a fan) writer Howard Kurtz and his dismissal of the “Hurricane of Hype.” Among other silly things, he says:
The fact that New York, home to the nation’s top news outlets, was directly in the storm’s path clearly fed this story-on-steroids. Does anyone seriously believe the hurricane would have drawn the same level of coverage if it had been bearing down on, say, Ft. Lauderdale?
He blames any extra coverage primarily (not just in small part, which would be defensible) on the media’s self-centeredness? Really? This storm just hit about 75 million people, or one fifth of the nation’s population, the only storm in my lifetime to do so. This is the worst storm to hit NYC, the country’s biggest city by far (almost 9m in NYC proper and almost 19m in the area), since Agnes in 1972.
Anything big that happens to New York City is a big deal just because it’s New York City. (Any other sports fans sick of hearing about ‘Melo?) When Denver (my home town) shuts down because of weather, that’s local news. When NYC does the same thing, that’s world news.
If this storm had hit the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area, yes, that would have impacted a few million people. But the NYC area alone has more people than all of Florida, and we are not built to face hurricanes. Sorry, that’s a pretty good, objective set of reasons to give more media attention to a hurricane hitting New York than one hitting Ft. Lauderdale.
Finally, no mindless spout of media blather would be complete without an idiotic bunch of partisan attacks on politicians in general and Obama in particular for sensible preparation for and warnings about a natural disaster.
While they might also be coming from the left at NJ’s Republican Governor Christie, I have yet to see one, while the right-wing hate machine has continued pounding Obama and other Dems with their hurricane-force hot air. People are dead, lives are ruined, and these blowhards are cynically deriding our leaders for trying too hard. Party should play no part in supporting calls for disaster preparedness. I for one thought NJ’s Republican Governor Chris Christie did very well; if there’s one politician you’d appoint to get in front of the microphone and tell people to “get the hell off the beach,” it’s him.
Irene was a major storm that came through the heart of the country’s most-populated area. Could the TV news coverage of Irene have been more thoughtful, useful, accurate, and data-driven? Yes. Erase “Irene” and put ANYTHING there and the answer is yes. (Uh, “crime” anyone?) That’s how TV news works. Off the record, even people who work in TV news will agree. But it actually was a big deal and was covered accordingly. If you want to use Irene coverage as an object lesson in how to do better TV news, fine, but that’s not the criticism I’m seeing.
And for those assaulting politicians for their abundance of caution and attempts to lead the country through a genuine national disaster? Go jump in a lake. I’d recommend Lake Pontchartrain.