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8/30/2011
DID PEOPLE SAYING THAT IRENE WAS ‘OVERHYPED’ COST LIVES?
CATEGORY: Media, Politics

The question has to be asked because the death toll now stands at 40. That’s double what it was when the first “overhyped” stories began to appear on the internet and bled into the cable net shows.

Most of the dead died in flooding after Irene had been downgraded to a tropical storm. Is it possible that residents in Vermont, New Jersey, upstate New York and other areas relaxed their guard when they heard that the storm wasn’t as bad as first predicted?

I don’t see how you can avoid reaching that conclusion.

Some of the criticism was directed at the president for apparently trying to make political hay out of hurricane response. He would have been stupid not to try. There wasn’t much he could do, but appearing to be on top of the situation and looking like a strong leader certainly didn’t hurt his image. And with his re-election campaign in full swing, and his favorable number hovering around 40, anything done to improve how the public views him is smart politics.

However, I doubt whether the White House knew the hurricane wasn’t going to be as bad as forecasters were predicting and hyped the danger to make the president look good. I’m sure they were as surprised - and relieved - as the rest of us when the worst did not come to pass. All the president had to go on was what the National Hurricane Center was telling him. He was prudent in warning of the “historic” nature of the storm when he made that statement. Irene was a category 3 and appeared to have a huge storm surge ahead of it.

But criticizing forecasters for “overhyping” or news networks and The Weather Channel for their wall to wall coverage would seem to be off base. With 40 dead, Irene should be considered a major storm by any reckoning. And the billions in damage is nothing to shake a stick at either. At times of a major natural disaster, it is the responsibility of news networks to keep the public informed with up to the minute weather information. I find no fault with networks who spent most of their air time talking about the hurricane. I’m sure there are a lot of people who were in the path of Irene when she made landfall who feel the same.

But once the conversation turned from warning the public to debating whether the storm was overhyped, it would have been natural for some people further north of the storm track - especially those far inland - to relax their guard. That’s why I’m asking the question whether the criticism - both political and media bashing - was justified, and whether it contributed to the body count.

Hard to prove, but I suspect that it did.

By: Rick Moran at 1:43 pm

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