As Hurricane Irene swept up the east coast, the President issued a warning for 10 states (plus DC and Puerto Rico), people stocked up on fresh water and condoms, and, importantly, vaguely famous country singers tweeted about it.
But as the storm moved north and decreased in intensity, eventually being downgraded to a tropical storm, grumbling started among people who had spent two hours looking for bread, and New Yorkers especially began saying that the hurricane was gratuitously over-hyped. A New York Times article noted that, unlike the forewarnings, “Windows in skyscrapers did not shatter. Subway tunnels did not flood. Power was not shut off pre-emptively. The water grid did not burst. There were no reported fatalities in the five boroughs. And the rivers flanking Manhattan did not overrun their banks.”
People are generally accepting a better-safe-than-sorry-but-I’m-still-kind-of-annoyed attitude, like the building superintendent who said of NYC’s mayor, “Bloomberg, he did O.K., but he made people crazy and spend a lot of money.”
And there was quite a bit of hype about Irene, mostly in the northern states, where hurricanes are less common and therefore more exciting for meteorologists, like this poor weatherguy who pretends to be buffeted around as people hang out on the boardwalk:
(The worse part is when the anchor says “There are, like, people sightseeing behind you. We can see them.” and he says “That’s because they are hardcore weather-watchers!“)
George Will even had nuggets of wisdom to dispense on the topic, saying “[Journalism] shouldn’t subtract from the nation’s understanding and it certainly shouldn’t contribute to the manufacture of synthetic hysteria that is so much a part of modern life. And I think we may have done so with regard to this tropical storm as it now seems to be.”
New Yorker Editorialist Adam Gopnik called ‘startling’ “the relentless note of incipient hysteria, the invitation to panic, the ungrounded scenarios—the overwhelming and underlying desire for something truly terrible to happen so that you could have something really hot to talk about.”
Many commentators, like editorialist Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast called out news stations for rabidly covering anything to do with the hurricane while failing to adequately cover the political events in Libya.
And of course, there have been deaths and significant losses in states all along the coast. Just because New York City didn’t collapse doesn’t mean that Irene wasn’t a significant disaster, and every time a columnist starts to talk about “sensationalism”, they are quickly reminded of this fact. But this just adds to the media’s kind of embarrassingly transparent public introspection that seems to be common now after significant unplanned events.
And just for fun, here’s that video of that reporter reporting while getting covered in sea gunk: