Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Sermon [Category Five Hype]

¡Hola! Everybody…
Brazilian Day today! Did I mention I was invited by a friend to spend ten days in Rio earlier this summer? I had to turn it down because I had just gotten laid off and I needed to hold on to what little moolah I have (which is fast running out). It’s been my dream to visit Brazil; hopefully, I’ll get there before my dick stops working… LOL

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-=[ Style Over substance ]=-
The media and politicians enjoy a symbiotic relationship during possible impending disasters. The resultant perfect storm of hype over Irene runs the risk of making Americans even more likely to ignore warnings in the future.
 -- Howard Kurtz on coverage of Irene, a category 1 storm

This time last week, we were all assaulted with one of the largest, most destructive storms in decades. No, I’m not talking about hurricane Irene, I’m talking about the perfect storm of mostly misleading coverage about Irene.

You can certainly make a convincing point that Irene wasn’t overhyped, since the storm caused widespread flooding and power outages for more than 1 million customers. You can also make the case that more people might have died were it not for the heretofore extraordinary measures of evacuation orders and the media coverage that they received.

On the other hand, the nonstop TV hyping of worst-case scenarios even after more-responsible forecasters saw as early as Thursday that Irene would not be a major hurricane caused millions to expect something far, far worse. “The East Coast Katrina,” some on-air “journalists bleated. Watching the infotainment media one would have expected or the water wall from The Ten Commandments. Nothing like that showed up.

As Toby Harnden, reporter for the Telegraph, UK observed of a CNN reporter:
… it was a dramatic on-air moment, broadcasting live from Long Island, New York during a hurricane that also threatened Manhattan.
“We are in, right, no… the right eye wall, no doubt about that… there you see the surf,” he said breathlessly. “That tells a story right there.”
Stumbling and apparently buffeted by ferocious gusts, he took shelter next to a building. “This is our protection from the wind,” he explained. “It’s been truly remarkable to watch the power of the ocean here.”
The surf may have told a story but so too did the sight behind the reporter of people chatting and ambling along the sea front and just goofing around. There was a man in a t-shirt, a woman waving her arms and then walking backwards. Then someone on a bicycle glided past.
Across the screen, the “Breaking News: Irene Batters Long Island” caption was replaced by stern advice from the Federal Emergency Management Agency: “Stay inside, stay safe.”
There’s a huge difference between informing the public and exploiting it for gain. Some cable anchors for example, were still reporting that Irene could strike New Jersey and New York as a major hurricane long after credible sources had reported the storm was weakening. Howard Kurtz (another media whore with whom I rarely agree) put it best when he said that this was Category 5 reporting on a Category 1 storm.

Some reporters even looked crestfallen as the Great Storm fizzled out into a mostly non-event. And it is true, as Nate Silver argues that the coverage of the storm in size was not extraordinary, but the coverage in tone certainly was. As with everything else, coverage of the storm was distorted in order to accentuate the sensational to the detriment of the public good.
One cable reporter from NY1, a local 24/7 news station, became visibly defensive when challenged by a viewer on the overhyped news reporting. He dismissed the notion that this type of coverage is motivated by financial gain, noting that the network had stopped airing commercials. For me, this was cynicism at its worst, and further undermines the credibility of already tarnished journalists. It was insulting, to say the least. 

Understanding the media reaction is simple: Irene was a big, inexpensive story capable of filling hours of air for pennies. The hurricane came to the media’s doorstep at a time when they’re all bargain-basement shopping for the cheapest crap an audience will watch. Yes, I’ve seen the reports about how millions worth of commercial time was pre-empted by storm coverage, but let’s not kid ourselves. The media outlets with the biggest audience numbers will use them to bump up their rate cards.

They'll make back the lost revenue and then some.

Corporate news is about, well, profits. But you’d have to be one dumb motherfucker to go along with that line of reasoning. The media, endowed as the “Fourth Estate” -- a vital part of our republic -- and the principle beneficiary of the First Amendment, has as its mandate the responsibility of informing the public and being a watchdog against abuses of power. When the media abdicates its civil responsibility, then we’re all fucked.

This type of media is detrimental to our quality of life and it erodes what little freedoms we could claim. In this way, is how a war criminal like Dick Cheney is allowed to break international and domestic laws and not just get away with it, but write books about breaking those laws and profiting from his crimes. Meanwhile, there’s a black or Latin@ youth rotting away in prison for stealing a bag of chips or six-pack of beer.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…


  1. I could have forgiven them the hype if the tone hadn't been so subtly gleeful. Am I cynical in thinking that they were partially playing to mid-America's dislike of New York as a place full of commie/pinkos, welfare-using, snobbish Woody Allen types? Were some people hoping NYC would be trashed for its sinfulness? Dunno. They succeeded in scaring some New Yorkers, lots of people with families in NYC, while FAILing utterly to anticipate and report on the flood danger in upstate NY, NJ, and VT. I saw one quick blurb about this.

    Had the intent been to warn people, there might have been less sensationalistic coverage on the impact on major cities and more on the impact for people living along the rivers in the affected states. There might EVEN have been coverage of the impact on AGW as a factor in the flooding/storm surge.

    Exploiting disasters (or near disasters) for entertainment is wicked.

    I saw lots of commercials during the coverage.

  2. Anonymous: you've definitely hit on the salient points. NYC was largely untouched, but the lesser-known, smaller upstate communites were heavioly impacted, though it was hardly covered with the same zeal. they wanted something to hit a LARGE city.

    Also, almost NO coverage of how rising water temperatures are playing a huge part in keeping these storms alive, and even making them worse. But our media is still "debating" AGW -- as if one could debate with someone with a flat earth mentality.


What say you?


[un]Common Sense