With all of the warnings and constant 24-hour news coverage exclaiming that hurricane Irene was going to be the ‘monster hurricane’ that was going to cause mass devastation and cripple the city of NY and its surrounding areas, you would think it was going to be the end of the world.
However, as we have come to discover, that for the most part Irene turned out to be nothing more than a tropical storm at best for NY. Which is certainly something to be thankful for. However, while weather is certainly unpredictable, it’s also become standard practice by the media to over-hype and exaggerate potential dangers in order to cause panic and, in turn, gain more viewers. With the rush of people to stores to buy supplies and food to stock-up for the impending ‘doomsday’, I’m also beginning to wonder if its all a plot to get people to spend money, seeing their opportunity with Irene to incite the buying-frenzy.
Of course, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. If hurricane Irene turned out to be bigger than it was and people weren’t warned in advance, then that would be a great tragedy. Evacuating those in the worst danger-zones and people who are enfeebled is a precaution that SHOULD be taken in these circumstances. We all remember the devastation of hurricane Katrina, and the lack of precaution taken by the state government to secure the levies. However, during the 24-hour news service that I was glued to (read: forced to watch as it was on every station), I witnessed numerous times when news reporters, who they themselves were out in the storm, interview and criticize other people for being outside. The reporters relied on the excuse that they “had to be outside for their job”, while implying the other people outside were “reckless” and “dumb” for not heeding their warnings. It’s interesting that they would have us assume that a news reporter would so gallantly risk their life all because it was “their job” to say that it’s raining and windy outside, when they can do the same thing from inside a studio, or even a building, and that the news station would treat their workers’ lives as disposable. During one interview, I even saw the news reporter lining people up outside in the storm to interview them about why they were outside, only to cut them off when they said that the news tended to “exaggerate the dangers”. If they were so concerned for their safety, why would they have them wait outside while they took a commercial break for their sponsors?
The main issue I take with the way the media handles these situations is that they can end up doing more harm than good with their constant sensationalism. While it’s good to stay informed and updated about any potentially hazardous situation, the over-saturation and grandeur of the delivery will cause more and more people to not believe the news when the really dangerous situations occur. There will always be the few people, no matter what the situation is, that are drawn to curiosity and danger who will ignore the warnings in order to get up close and personal to the edge. Whether it be surfers, storm chasers, or just people walking outside when they shouldn’t, human nature will get the better of them. However, by building up story after story and causing more and more panic only to have reality hit and people realize the exaggerations created by the media, the more people will distrust the warnings and not listen the next time. But that’s only after the panic-induced public behave the way panic-induced people behave, and we already know it’s not the most civil.
There are only so many times you can cry wolf before people won’t listen, and this will ultimately cause the most harm. As long as fear and unknowing equates to desperation for news, I feel that the media will wet the appetites, so to speak, of their audience in order to sell them their meal. My hope is that the way the media will start to deliver their menu will be with less hyperbole and buzz words, and more as a factual list of ingredients.
What is your opinion? Did the media handle the hurricane appropriately? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.