‘A Hurricane of Hype’

by Greg Pollowitz

Was Hurricane Irene over-hyped, as Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast and CNN claims?

I say this with all due respect to the millions who were left without power, to those communities facing flooding problems, and of course to the families of the 11 people (at last count) who lost their lives in storm-related accidents.

And I take nothing away from the journalists who worked around the clock, many braving the elements, to cover a hurricane that was sweeping its way from North Carolina to New England.

But the tsunami of hype on this story was relentless, a Category 5 performance that was driven in large measure by ratings. Every producer knew that to abandon the coverage even briefly—say, to cover the continued fighting in Libya—was to risk driving viewers elsewhere. Websites, too, were running dramatic headlines even as it became apparent that the storm wasn’t as powerful as advertised.

Keep in mind that Kurtz wrote this at 11:15 a.m. on Sunday, while Irene was still moving north. The destruction underway while he was typing certainly didn’t feel like hype to the residents in the hurricane’s path. Rather than the whole thing being a non-event, the MSM really just gave up once New York City seemed in the clear. They should be criticized for missing the story right under their noses.

I do not consider that Irene was hyped. That there is extensive damage from North Carolina to Maine should, by itself, tell Kurtz and others that, although New York was spared a Michael Bay-worthy event (stolen from @drewmtips), the coverage was fair and, for the most part, honest about what should be expected.

Check out the 9:00 update on Irene over in The Corner. The scariest thing in there is “Hurricane Watch in effect for NYC,” and that was from the National Weather Service, not the MSM at large. If you look at the link from Brendan Loy, the analysis was spot on regarding what the Northeast would experience over the coming hours. Here’s an excerpt from the Jeff Master link that give an accurate picture of what to expect moving forward:

The storm surge and wave action from Irene is likely to cause the storm’s greatest damage. High tide is near 7 – 8 pm EDT tonight, meaning that the storm surges occurring now will be some of Irene’s most damaging. The highest surges measured at any of NOAA’s regular tide gauges at 8 pm were 4.5 feet at Sewells Point in Norfolk Virginia and Oregon Inlet, NC. Higher surges are occurring father inland where narrow inlets funnel the storm surge to higher elevations. It remains unclear if the ocean will overtop Manhattan’s sea wall at The Battery Sunday morning during the 8 am high tide. Latest storm surge forecasts from SUNY Stony Brook predict a peak water level of 2.4 meters above Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW) at 7:15 am Sunday, which would put the ocean right at the top of the sea wall. Presumably, waves from the hurricane’s winds would then push some water over the top of the wall, but it is uncertain whether or not this would cause significant flooding. The storm surge was already 1 foot at 8 pm tonight. Storm surge flooding continues to be a major concern all along the coast of Long Island Sound; I recommend the SUNY Stony Brook storm surge page for those interested in looking at observed and predicted storm surge levels along coast New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.

The story was being reported in real time and changes were made as events warranted. I didn’t see much evidence from my viewing that media personalities were pimping the Armageddon scenario once the evidence came in and it seemed as if Armageddon would be avoided.

This discussion on The Today Show, toward the end, gets to the question of whether over-hyping led to complacency. Al Roker says yes, but I disagree. In 2005, after the world saw what had happened to to New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Wilma hit the Ft. Lauderdale area and caused significant damage. Then Governor Jeb Bush warned residents for days and days in advance of the danger, yet not enough were prepared — and this was after Katrina. What more can realistically be done to alert people in hurricane zones of the danger? People are demanding a 100% fool-proof scientific model that will tell them exactly what to do. That doesn’t, and will never, exist.

If there’s a complacency in the population over events like this, it’s already ingrained into the American psyche. You can’t blame the media if the people decide to ignore the warnings.