Hyping the Storm

Howard Kurtz is critical of Irene coverage:

It was raining in Manhattan on Sunday morning, and the dogged correspondents in their brightly colored windbreakers were getting wet.

But the apocalypse that cable television had been trumpeting had failed to materialize. And at 9 a.m., you could almost hear the air come out of the media’s hot-air balloon of constant coverage when Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm.

I don’t know how bad it was outside of the greater New York media market, but if I never again see some reporter in a rain slicker pointing out to sea and saying, look at those waves, I’ll be happy.

It wasn’t so much that there was inane coverage of nothing for hour after hour. It was that there was inane coverage of nothing on nearly every channel for hour after hour. Except for the premium channels, nearly every channel had suspended regular programming and was covering the storm that wasn’t happening.

I don’t blame authorities for warning the public to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. But by Saturday morning all the news stories said the storm would be no more than category 1, if that, when it got to New York. The news managers should have known there wouldn’t be enough happening to justify round-the-clock live reporting.

It would have made sense to have some news crews standing by in high-risk areas in case something happened. Then while nothing much was happening they could have stuck to the usual August weekend programing of crime show re-runs and used a news crawl at the bottom of the screen to keep viewers apprised of new developments. But no, they had to do round the clock live reporting, even when there was nothing to report.

So by this morning the CBS affiliate was reduced to repeatedly showing us some sand and small debris that had washed up on the Asbury Park boardwalk. It was bad enough to see this once. But the studio anchors kept going back to the reporter at Asbury Park, who once again would show us the sand on the boardwalk with as much excitement as if she had found signs of a space alien landing.

On the other hand, if you had wanted to know the likelihood of flooding in your neighborhood — good luck.

Update: Brad Friedman of The Brad Blog makes the point that Irene really was a significant storm that caused significant destruction in some places. But if anything this underscores the inanity of the hurricane news coverage. By giving so much time to their live, brain-numbing, “on the spot” coverage of relatively insignificant storm activity, television news missed real stories.

For example, this morning I learned that there was some nasty flooding in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan, which is on the west side, near the Hudson River, around 13th Street. Yesterday the live news teams were all several blocks south, anxiously covering the damp sidewalks in Battery Park.

Of course, the real problem is that anything happening outside of New York City was being ignored by the A-list news teams. Perhaps local and national news was covering it, but New York City television was oblivious to yesterday’s record floods in Pennsylvania and Vermont.

18 thoughts on “Hyping the Storm

  1. It’s F.E.A.R. They are like the neo-cons and assorted blue dog Dems, they sell fear. And they keep the suckers mesmerized for hours. “Look dear, it is almost to Ocean City.” “Look dear, Irene is almost to Cape May.”

  2. That’s worse than we get here in Los Angeles the day of the first heavy rain of the season, but the oft-repeated close-up shots (varying slightly by station) of water running along the gutter and sometimes producing a wave higher than the curb must cause a lot of people to mutter “Yeah, that happens when it rains. Why do the TV people think it’s News?”

  3. I got a kick out of Al Roker the other morning;he was talking about rain showers in advance of the storm, and he turned to co-host Stephany (with the hot bod) and says “do we have any shower photos?”
    Well, Steph just lights up and says “shower photos!!??”.
    Al replys (sarcastically) “Yes shower photos , Stephany! From the sky. From Irene!!!”

  4. Much Ado About Nothing…

    Look on the plus side – a lot of low level reporters now can check off that “Disaster Coverage” box on their resumes.
    I saw one poor yutz telling people he was on the exact same boardwalk during Gloria, in ’85, and I’m thinking “Hey buddy, do you ever ponder your career choice? ‘Cause ya should…”

    To me, the funniest part was watching when someone other than the brave, brave, reporter was on some boardwalk or street, and the lecture the reporter, standing outside in the wind and rain, with tens of thousands of dollars of equipment, endangering the lives of the camera and sound people, would give about how stupid some people are, and who aren’t listening to government warnings to stay on the street.
    No wonder our MSM is so messed up – like Republicans, they have an irony deficiency.

    And the storm didn’t even do enough damage to excite Eric Cantor and the Republicans, who were hoping to reinforce their usual point – “Hey, if women, children, and senior need help over here, we need to pay for it by mugging the women, children, and senior over there.”

  5. There must be some way that Fox News can blame this on Obama, isn’t there? I mean, why wasn’t he out there personally filling sandbags? And remember, he went jogging last week during that devastating earthquake.

  6. I may be wrong, but the average American consumer seems to demand that everything be made into a spectacle. They may not be conscious of this, but the feedback they furnish through their consumption has shaped the product. Even NPR, which is still head and shoulders above other domestic news sources, packages our political discourse as the constant horse race. The spectacle rather than the substance. We go from one shiny object to another and everything must be presented as a shiny object, even when it’s not in its nature to be shiny.

    Maybe we are in a post literate society and the glitz and the hype are the “sound and the fury”…

    Chris Hedges wrote about this is “Empire of Illusion” which is very good, but pretty depressing.

  7. Look on the plus side – a lot of low level reporters now can check off that “Disaster Coverage” box on their resumes.

    A little off topic, but along the same vein… Did you check out Rubio dressing up his resume with a photo op with Nancy Reagan? Talk about gettin’ your ticket punched..Rubio’s stock in Conservativism is now gold that he’s received the blessing from the Grand Hag..and he’s got pictures to prove it. It’s sick!

  8. The national TV media’s myopia is very clear at this point. They are unable to focus on more than one thing at a time, and usually that thing is superficial, short-term and relatively unimportant (like a scandal or political gaffe).

    This is why the national TV media is becoming a laughable journalistic/entertainment sideshow while people turn to print and online media for news that is local, specific, in-depth and relevant to their lives.

  9. Jake Tapper of abc made asked the strangest question on abc coverage of of the storm to a corespondent, who happened to be out in the water, early Sunday during abc’s meet the republican’s. he asked the corespondent, did he think the people were feeding the storm? Well the corespondent didn’t know how to resond, so he asked jake to repeat, jake did repeat the question, and there was silence for a long time, the corespondent didn’t know how to respond, and franklly I was gob-smacked too. Did anybody else pick-up on that?

  10. And I’d disagree with goatherd above – the myopia is not so much a result of what consumers want to see as what these media outlets believe they want to see or want them to want to see.

    TV media is concerned with one thing: images. They want images that will force you to watch their program because they are so disturbing/scary/shocking/etc. That’s why you see so many stupid cub reporters out standing near stormy seas on the coastline – storm scenes are eye-catching. This obsession with visual images also goes along with the superficiality and shallowness of the analysis you typically hear there.

  11. And we now return to our regularly-scheduled drivel. OMG, did you hear Beyonce is preggers?!

  12. OMG, did you hear Beyonce is preggers?!

    No, I didn’t hear that. But I did see a story about Justin Bieber having a bowel movement or something like that.

  13. Yes, I was watching BBC, when I read about Beyonce’s pregnancy in the runner at the bottom of the page. Now that BBC does this, where can I go for televised news that doesn’t treat me like an idiot? Umm, crickets?

  14. I did see a story about Justin Bieber having a bowel movement or something like that.

    And long overdue, imo.

    Lynne – I think you’re right. There is no safe haven left for those of us who don’t care about the trivial people and their uninteresting “news.”

  15. I agree the news coverage of the storm was stupid. But in fact it was worse than stupid, it was misplaced …. here in NYC we thought the storm had just dumped some rain and moved on when I got a call from a friend who has (well, at this point, had) a summer place in the Catskills. She called me in tears telling me that upstate NYC and Vermont had been devastated; the place she rented was destroyed, the town road was impassible, everyone whose house hadn’t been washed away was without power, water, transportation, and the further north you went, the worse it was. It was the first I’d heard about it. So thank god for the internet, because otherwise who would have known that in fact Irene was a devastating storm? Not from our clueless TV news.

    • So thank god for the internet, because otherwise who would have known that in fact Irene was a devastating storm? Not from our clueless TV news.

      Exactly. The news room managers had decided that the story was going to be about a hurricane striking the New York metropolitan area, and once they had all their news teams deployed that’s the story they stuck with, even as it became obvious there was no story. In the meantime, the real story was going uncovered.

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