Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Still the view from Manhattan

My favorite line from the play "Greater Tuna" comes when the two radio announcers for the town are reading the national news, and note a nuclear power plant has leaked radiation (if I recall the situation correctly) that is affecting several surrounding states. They pause for a moment, then slap the page to the desk with finality and announce: "Texas NOT included!"

It's a great laugh line, especially among Texans. Sometimes I think New Yorkers, at least those with access to TV cameras, are not so self-aware:

Post-Tropical Cyclone Irene has killed 40 people in the US, and authorities warn that flooding could continue for up to three days in northern US states.

More than five million people remain without power, while Vermont is reeling from its worst floods in many decades.

Insurance claims could top $7bn (£4.3bn), the Consumer Federation of America estimated.
I've heard every city in the state of Connecticut suffered damages, from mild to severe. It may be weeks before Vermont can begin to recover. However:

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

But the apocalypse that cable television had been trumpeting had failed to materialize. And at 9 a.m., you could almost hear the air come out of the media’s hot-air balloon of constant coverage when Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm.

“Florence Nightingale said, ‘Whatever you say about hospitals, they shouldn’t make their patients sicker,” [George Will] said. “And whatever else you want to say about journalism, it shouldn’t subtract from the nation’s understanding, and it certainly shouldn’t contribute to the manufactured, 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.”
Even The Washington Post thought Howard Kurtz scored a hit with this point:

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?
And I'll be honest, I sort of thought the same thing myself, briefly. Living on the Gulf Coast, which I've often described as America's sewer outfall, I get used to hurricanes and yet I don't really think they ever get over-hyped, even when they don't threaten major metropolitan areas or major media centers. Because despite Gulf Coast bravado, you never get used to hurricanes.

I mean, if you want hysterical reactions to hurricanes, this was true hysteria:

Fear of Rita right after the disaster of Katrina led to a mass exodus of the Texas Gulf coast just below Houston, and to a flight of people from Houston that created a traffic jam from Houston to Dallas (a distance of over 200 miles). That traffic jam led directly to the deaths of several elderly people when the bus they were evacuating in caught fire because it had idled too long in the Texas heat. And that hysteria was prompted because of government ineptitude which created the horror of New Orleans after Katrina. There was a certain sense of hype and media/government sponsored hysteria (the Mayor of Houston made matters worse by telling everyone in Houston to evacuate in the face of Rita) in the wake of that storm, but Rita still did serious damage to Beaumont and east to Lake Charles, Louisiana. Like I say, you never get used to hurricanes.

Still, the notable connection between George Will and Howard Kurtz and the other critics of the "hype" of Irene is that they live in Manhattan, and since NYC wasn't appreciably affected by the storm, what was all the worry about? You have to especially appreciate the way Kurtz closes his column:

As the storm weakened, a tone of reality crept into the live reports. After heading to Battery Park, on the low-lying southern tip of Manhattan, CNN’s Anderson Cooper said: “There has been some flooding—not a huge amount of flooding, and some of the water is already starting to recede … It’s actually not bad at all.”

But there is always the prospect that something bad might happen soon. “Is Wall Street going to open tomorrow?” business correspondent Bob Pisani asked on MSNBC, the towers of the financial district behind him.

Hurricanes are unpredictable, and it’s a great relief that the prophets of doom were wrong about Hurricane Irene. But don’t expect the cable networks to downgrade their coverage the next time a tropical storm gathers strength.
No flooding in NYC equated to no flooding anywhere. But it was only a "tropical storm" that left Vermont in this condition:

Vermont Emergency Management officials say they'll use helicopters to airlift food, water and supplies to towns cut off by flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Irene.

Emergency Management spokesman Mark Bosma said Tuesday that Vermont National Guard helicopters will head Tuesday to about a dozen towns where roads and bridges washed out lifelines
And as for the forty people dead and the millions still without power, well...that's why they should live in NYC, I guess.

A minor update:

Hurricane Irene will most likely prove to be one of the 10 costliest catastrophes in the nation’s history, and analysts said that much of the damage might not be covered by insurance because it was caused not by winds but by flooding, which is excluded from many standard policies.
I suppose at this point I'm just piling on, especially to point out "an unusually wide area of the East Coast" barely includes New York City:

Industry estimates put the cost of the storm at $7 billion to $10 billion, largely because the hurricane pummeled an unusually wide area of the East Coast. Beyond deadly flooding that caused havoc in upstate New York and Vermont, the hurricane flooded cotton and tobacco crops in North Carolina, temporarily halted shellfish harvesting in Chesapeake Bay, sapped power and kept commuters from their jobs in the New York metropolitan area and pushed tourists off Atlantic beaches in the peak of summer.
This description makes it clear the least damage occurred in the New York City area. I'm happy for them, but for the rest of the East Coast, they have my sympathy and my prayers.


  1. The New Yorker cover says it all. Great find.

    Does Howie Kurtz now pay due respect to the 40 dead? It's too late for them to hear him.

    Kurtz does ask one pertinent question:

    Does anyone seriously believe the hurricane would have drawn the same level of coverage if it had been bearing down on, say, Ft. Lauderdale?

    George Will's commentary was utterly loathsome. It's well past retirement time for him.

    Hear this, O foolish and senseless people,
    who have eyes, but do not see,
    who have ears, but do not hear.

  2. Kurtz does ask one pertinent question:

    Does anyone seriously believe the hurricane would have drawn the same level of coverage if it had been bearing down on, say, Ft. Lauderdale?

    Maybe not. But would anybody be saying the storm was "hyped" if it missed Fr. Lauderdale but caused flooding in Georgia instead?

    I'll admit I missed all the cable coverage of Irene. I was away from TeeVee that week. Some of what Kurtz cites indicates too much cble concern with NYC, but then he displays the same indifference to all that is not NYC.

    I find it all pretty appalling.

  3. For some reason, I felt compelled to watch.

  4. Observing the storm from afar through the blogs of friends all over the Eastern states I was very aware of the ignoring of everywhere that wasn't New York by the media. And it was the same in the UK as in the US. The BBC concentrated almost solely on New York, no doubt because that was where their correspondent was holed up.

  5. MP--

    Living on the "Third Coast," I'm used to NYC and LA sucking up all the media attention in the US. What surprises me this time is how naked the parochialism is. I woke up this morning to stories of people waiting for power lines to be repaired in Virginia (a familiar tale from 17 days in Houston without power following Hurricane Ike) and flood waters still rising in Vermont. It really isn't a complete media myopia, but where it exists, it's stunningly blinkered.

  6. There is a certain sort of media idiot savant (cf. George Will) who really thinks that New York is the world.

    I love New York City, I visit whenever I can, but it is not the whole of America, let alone the world. Certain "media experts" in their apparent dotage simply do not notice. Of course they did not get it when they were young, so this is not news.