The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


As I watch the media’s hypervenitilating coverage of the run-up to Hurricane Irene’s collision with the Northeastern United States, all I can do was shake my head and turn the TV off. I live in South Florida, a hurricane-prone area of the country, so I know something about these tropical cyclones. Yes, they can be dangerous. Yes, precautions must be made in advance, and yes, a category 1 storm can do significant damage and certainly causes enormous temporary inconvenience (e.g., power outages, gas lines, food shortages). But Cat 1 storms are rarely killers, rarely do anything close to catastrophic damage, and rarely leave long-lasting effects.

But the media’s coverage of Irene borders on hysteria—or at least, it is intended to create hysteria among those who are unable to think critically. Worse, in order to cover themselves politically, politicians play off the media coverage and use “an abundance of caution” and make decisions that are dubious at best (e.g., shutting down the entire NYC transit system hours before the storm will strike).

The media coverage of this event borders on irresponsible. Viewers are given no context, reports that the storm is weakening off the Carolina coast are either not mentioned or are presented with a follow-on the tag-line such as: “… but it could grow in intensity as it moves northward.” Yes, I suppose it could, but meteorological science and NOAA indicate that it probably won’t. In fact, NOAA believes it will probably continue to weaken.

Yet, intrepid reporters stand on windy beaches and tell us that we’re all doomed. Camera crews look for the one old wood pier that the waves smash to smithereens and suggest that the viewer’s house is next. It’s disgraceful, it’s misleading, and yes, it is irresponsible. But it does hold viewers, improve ratings, and increase ad dollars. And in the end, that’s what it’s all about.