The Hurricane Booth

The weirdest thing about the hurricane? The two people in the booth.

I went to get a haircut at the mall on Saturday morning before Irene hit – I always like to look my best when big storms come by – and I noticed an odd booth in the food court. It looked like a cross between one of those photo booths you see at a mall or a carnival and some sort of fancy shower. There were two people in the booth getting blown.

Wait, I should really rephrase that.

There were two people in the booth getting blown by fierce winds. This was a hurricane booth! I didn’t know such a thing existed but I’m not up on stuff like that. The man and woman seemed to be having a grand time, though I thought it was odd they wanted to jump into such a booth when they could experience the real thing in 12 hours. But when you’re inside a booth like that you don’t have to worry about trees and garbage cans flying by you.

As for Hurricane Irene, the real deal, we didn’t get much here. Very little wind, some wind gusts, some trees down, the surf was certanly up, but it was a non-event where I am. In fact, we got more wind and rain when I went to bed around 11:30 or so last night than we got the entire day, even though we weren’t in the official middle of the storm anymore. But we often get a backlash when it comes to storms. Still, it wasn’t bad here at all.

Notice I said here. There’s a big difference between making an observation that you didn’t get bad weather where you are and making a general statement about the weather everywhere in the storm’s path.

Which brings us to The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz and his latest bit of hackery. Kurtz writes that the media overhyped the hurricane. And to that just let me say this: 29 people dead, 4 million without power, $7 billion worth of damage.

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

The budding novelist sets the scene. Oh, the reporters were getting wet! And a little water never hurt anyone! Ha ha!

Someone has to say it: cable news was utterly swept away by the notion that Irene would turn out to be Armageddon.

Someone has to say it? Everyone has been saying stuff like this for the past 15 years, and he treats it as some original observation. Yes, “someone” has to say it. And that “someone” is “everybody who owns a television.”

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.

Of course, Kurtz has to say this. He’s going to dump on the media coverage but he has to put this disclaimer in. As if someone would accuse him of wanting people to die. But he also unintentionally gives people like me some ammo for an opposing view. This is the line where he should have said to himself, “wait, do I really want to write this column right now?” But he had a deadline and, well, you know.

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?

First of all, there have been plenty of times where the news outlets covered hurricanes in Florida or New Orleans or the Carolinas extensively. But yeah, one of the reasons why it was covered so much is because a major hurricane doesn’t hit the biggest city in the country too often.

The blizzard of press conferences, in turn, enable the networks to keep their “Breaking News” banners up…

Wow, what an insightful observation!

Hurricanes are unpredictable, and it’s a great relief that the prophets of doom were wrong about Hurricane Irene.

Does Kurtz have an editor over there? There’s no way that line should have gotten the thumbs up when the storm wasn’t over for everyone yet (and had already done damage in other places).

Now, there’s a real debate we could have about news coverage in general. Personally I think we don’t need all of the 24 hour news channels and some stories are often hyped out of proportion. The less I know about Kim Kardashian’s wedding the better. But the first thing I thought of when I saw Kurtz’s column was… don’t do that. Don’t even write the column. The idea is already cliched, and you risk just being flat-out wrong about what you’re saying (and yes Howard, you’re flat-out wrong in what you’re saying).

The most telling part of Kurtz’s piece? Look at the time it was posted. It was on the web at 11:15am. Let’s be generous and say that Kurtz finished it an hour earlier (though I bet it was even earlier than that – like I said, I’m being generous). That means Kurtz had decided that the coverage was already way too much on Sunday morning at 10:15.

The guy’s not only a whiz-bang media analyst, he’s Cleo.

Irene fell far short of the media’s dire warnings even before it was downgraded.

Again: 29 people dead, 4 million without power, $7 billion worth of damage. A giant storm affecting the largest population in the U.S. But I guess because it didn’t hit NYC as much as the experts thought it was going to means that the TV coverage was “hype.”

Kurtz was in his own hurricane booth this weekend, and he couldn’t hear anything that was going on outside.

2 thoughts on “The Hurricane Booth

  1. Aw, Bob, yer just jellus that you don’t get paid a king’s ransom to spout conventional wisdom.

    Kurtz is no less hacktacular at the Daily Beast than he was at the Washington Post, but he’s only a symptom. His whole field of punditry is like that: obviousness is rewarded, obliviousness rewarded even more, and there’s no penalty for being mistaken or just plain wrong. Nice work if you can get it.

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