In going with wall-to-wall coverage of Hurricane Irene over the weekend, television cable news channels --- encouraged by forecasts --- on Friday night initially figured a monster storm would raise havoc on the East Coast and their on-scene reporters would give an historic play by play, notes Grumpy Editor. ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and CNN all had their top talent on camera during the weekend.
Wind-blown reporters standing (by tradition) in the rain, often with crashing surf as backdrops, did their jobs. But fizzling Irene, downgraded to a tropical storm before reaching New York, let them down.
With no catastrophe to report, especially in the New York City area --- where authorities shut down airports and transit operations ahead of the storm --- the main focus became flooded streets, power outages and downed trees.
Disappointment in the tone of reporting came Sunday morning, as one network reporter tried to keep news directors’ spirits up (and viewers glued to TV sets) by cautioning, “There still is concern here.”
One TV meteorologist, mid-day Sunday, confessed Irene would be remembered “not as a wind storm, but as a flooding storm.”
An early indication of possible doom came five days earlier when an Associated Press story warned, “Forecasters say the hurricane could grow to a monstrous Category 4 storm with winds of more than 131 m.p.h. before it’s predicted to come ashore this weekend on the U.S. mainland.”
After Irene reached the eastern fringes of North Carolina, a parade of state and federal officials issued dire warnings and told residents to evacuate. President Barack Obama made two appearances on national television.
“Breaking news” banners peppered TV screens.
Grumpy Editor noticed several TV appearances of Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That contrasted with virtually no media mention of FEMA earlier this year when extensive floods for days smacked the U.S. along the Mississippi River.
With Irene fading and sunshine appearing yesterday morning, a TV newsman went into detailed coverage of a Long Island hotel parking lot under 18 inches of water.
The headline on Howard Kurtz’s media blog for The Daily Beast yesterday summed up the meteorological event with: A Hurricane of Hype.
Across the Atlantic in London, a Daily Telegraph headline over a comprehensive storm story read: Perfect Storm of Hype: Politicians, the media and the Hurricane Irene apocalypse that never was.