Hurricanes And The News Media

Why do natural disasters cause the news media to act so stupidly?

With the approach of Hurricane Sandy essentially shutting the entire Metropolitan D.C. area down today, I’ve spent the better part of my day working from home while having cable news on in the background. It really doesn’t matter what channel I have on, because they’ve all been the same. At least three times every hour they will switch to some poor correspondent who has drawn the short straw and gotten the unenviable assignment of standing outside and showing us that, yes indeed, Hurricanes are storms that produce a lot of wind, a lot of rain, and huge waves that pound against the shore. This time around, those with the assignment from hell are finding themselves in Asbury Park and Atlantic City, New Jersey, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and Ocean City, Maryland.

It really doesn’t matter which correspondent they switch to, or which network you’re watching, because the scenes are always the same. There’s your “brave” correspondent standing out in water that goes at least up their knees (while the camera guy is a safe distance away, of course) with the wind blowing them to and fro and basically telling us that, well, Hurricanes are storms that have a lot of rain, wind, and seawater. The epitome of the ridiculousness of this coverage today has been CNN’s Ali Velishi, who is mostly a financial correspondent but somehow found himself sent down to Atlantic City to stand in the middle of an intersection where the water kept rising higher and higher and the wind became stronger. At the top of the 6pm hour, he was reporting about how a mandatory curfew had gone into effect while himself violating said curfew. Each time I saw one of these cutaways, I just had to ask myself what the hell are they thinking? In all honestly, how is some guy who happened to draw the short straw in the newsroom standing out in the middle of the most violent storm to hit the East Coast in decades “news”? How does it help to inform viewers at all?

I get why television news divisions do this sort of thing, of course. I’ve seen it since I was a kid growing up in New Jersey and the poor sap local weather guy was forced to stand outside in the middle of the massive blizzards that the tri-state area got in 1977 and 1978. It’s all about the ratings. Apparently, they think that they can draw eyeballs by putting  the lives of at least three people (reporter, cameraman, and producer) in jeopardy just so we can see some cool pictures and, of course, laugh at the poor reporter who will inevitably get knocked over by a wave or a gust of wind. Now, I am admittedly not your typical television viewer, but personally I don’t get it. If I’m in an area where there’s a storm as serious as Sandy threatening what I want isn’t stupid stunts from reporters, but real information about what the dangers are that I might face and what resources I can access in the event of an emergency.

Wouldn’t that be a better use of the non-stop television coverage that events like these typically generate?

FILED UNDER: Media, Natural Disasters, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Mikey says:

    That picture made me think One Direction were performing in the rain or something. The guys in the background have matching shirts and everything.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    The FOX people are unhappy because they can’t talk about Benghazi 24/7.

  3. Davebo says:

    Watching live stream of WABC right now and loving it! Get out there with your station logo’d slicker suit and show me just how hard the wind is blowing! What the hell are we paying you blondes for?

    Seriously, that’s some quality cinema there. Don’t hate what you don’t understand…

  4. Tsar Nicholas says:

    For the likes of CNN and MSNBC they’ve come to the conclusion that to maintain some semblance of their very tiny collective audience they need to pimp the time-honored media ledes of sex and death. That doesn’t really work over the long term, but that’s their approach. Shit, given the horrible ratings trends, pretty soon their news bunnies will be showing more T&A than Jenna Jameson in her prime and they’ll be televising live human sacrifices. As for why Fox News follows the liberal herd it’s a combination of the “when in Rome” principle and the lowest common denominator principle.

  5. Just Me says:

    Even worse the poor guy who drew the short straw stands out in the wind to tell us it is windy.

    Its a hurricane-I am pretty sure most people know a hurricane involves wind and they don’t need the reporter standing in the street or on the beach to tell them that fact.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    Meanwhile there’s no mention at all if the Frankenfog that covered my area this morning and didn’t burn off til noon.

  7. My favorite is the reporter telling viewers about how dangerous it is to be out there and how everyone should be at home but, unfortunately, I haven’t seen a reporter get blown away yet. 🙁

  8. CSK says:

    Doug, you forgot to mention the inevitable footage with the reporter standing on the beach pointing to some idiot who’s surfing in twenty-foot waves while a seventy-five-mile an hour wind is blowing, and saying: ” I don’t think he should be doing that. Why is he doing that? Someone should warn him that’s dangerous.”

  9. Mikey says:

    This seems appropriate: It’s Raining Sideways

  10. Davebo says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    For the likes of CNN and MSNBC they’ve come to the conclusion that to maintain some semblance of their very tiny collective audience they need to pimp the time-honored media ledes of sex and death.

    It’s so hilarious to watch an obviously sexually repressed, or repulsed as the case may be, draw analogies between the media’s coverage of a fairly major storm event affecting 16 million plus people with his or her’s own Category Five projections.

    Seriously, seek help.

  11. @michael reynolds:

    Fog. In the San Francisco Bay Area. How unusual 🙂

  12. Drew says:

    The wind shots on the shore are stupid.

    However, the flooding and power issues are real. It’s worth a reporter giving some perspective on those. That’s where someone could get int o trouble.

  13. Drew says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I wonder if any Occupy Wall Street types are still in Zuccotti Park. Well, at least a rare bath……

  14. JKB says:

    To paraphrase Ron White, it is not that the wind is blowing, it is what the wind is blowing.

    Blowing rain is painful and stinging. Blowing 2x4s on the other hand fell like a mack truck.

  15. beth says:

    My daughter and friends came home from school, turned on CNN and immediately started taking bets on when Ali Velshi would either a) get knocked over by the wind, b) get knocked unconscious by a tree branch, or c) be decapitated by a freewheeling street sign. I started to tell them they were being cruel but after watching him stupidly standing in 95 mph winds, I lay my bet on being knocked over by the wind. When 14 year olds have more sense than you, maybe you should re-think your career.

  16. wr says:

    @Drew: Ooh, look, people Drew doesn’t like might drown and die! How hilarious!

  17. Janis Gore says:

    If y’all can, put up a post so everyone can report in. I’d read every word.

  18. Mikey says:

    Not too much happened around me. Relatively few power outages, living in a neighborhood with buried power lines 1/4 mile from a substation is a good thing when bad weather hits. Some road closures from downed trees. I may try to get to the office later this morning.

  19. Janis Gore says:

    That’s what I’m looking for. Thanks, Mikey.

    We do have a community here.

  20. Mikey says:

    @Janis Gore: Sure thing. Also, I’m in Northern Virginia. My relatives in NYC fared much worse, I think.

  21. Scott says:

    Oh come on, people. I think the reporters actually enjoy it, especially the folks on the weather channel. This is what they live for. It certainly is more fun than covering the latest phony political story of the day. Covering a storm brings a little sunshine into their lives.

  22. Janis Gore says:

    The Weather Channel covered an interesting dispute between Gov. Christie and the mayor of Atlantic City this morning. Christie ordered evacuation and the mayor said local shelters would be available.

    People stayed who should have left.

  23. Janis Gore says:

    Now, do you posters have a reason for not putting up a post inviting commenters to report in? Do you not want to jam communications ? If so, say so.

    Otherwise, why are you ignoring me?

  24. Janis Gore says:

    God, I hope y’all don’t complain about FEMA.

  25. Rob in CT says:

    People are silly, news at 11. 😉

    Things are okish here in central CT. The coast got hit hard. My area (~20 miles East of Hartford) lost power around dinnertime last night. The area went out all in one shot, it seems. Everyone I’ve talked to who lives nearby lost power at the same time. That gives me some hope that it will come back up fairly quickly. Driving to work this morning, there wasn’t the sort of crazy devastation I remember from Irene and the October snowstorm last year. Either way, I’ve got a generator now, so I’ve got heat, hot water, fridge/freezer, microwave and lights. I joked that after I bought it we wouldn’t lose power for another 20 years. Evidently not.

  26. Unsympathetic says:

    FEMA is funded 25% state, 75% federal.. and given that the vast majority of FEMA dollars go to Republican areas and achieve a ridiculous multiplier, Rmoney’s comments made no sense.

    Downtown Baltimore didn’t get hit much.. heavy winds from 1p yesterday to 1a this morning, but that’s it. Businesses are opening at noon.

  27. Janis Gore says:

    Rob, this what I’m talking about. Damned Bozos!

  28. Janis Gore says:

    Glad you’re okay. Stay safe.

  29. Janis Gore says:

    @Rob in CT: I have a funny story about our generator in Isaac. I’m about 200 miles up the Mississippi River from the coast.

    I was tending my very ill brother during Gustav, when we lost power for two days. He stayed here for about six months recovering strength and weight.

    When he recovered he bought us a natural gas Generac.

    When Isaac hit, we went through a series of brief power surges before the lights went out. The Generac would start and sputter, then turn off after about a minute. It would wait , then try again.

    My stepson came in and announced that we were the only house in town without power. Turns out the surges had fried three switches. The repairman said he’d never seen anything like it.

  30. James H says:
  31. Rob in CT says:

    @Janis Gore:

    That’s just absurdly unlucky. But kinda funny. Sorry 😉

    I don’t have a “standby” generator. Mine is just a powerful portable one that runs on gasoline. The prior owner of the house had a generator hookup installed and had various things wired. Not exactly the things I wished they’d wired, but good enough. I imagine they were trying to not wire too many circuits so as to not overload whatever generator they had. The one I bought is really big for a “portable” one (7250 watts, 8250 surge watts) and could actually handle more if it was wired up.

  32. Janis Gore says:

    Anyway, the moral of that story is to keep a few candles and turn the damned thing off during fluttery power surges. Then pop it back to “auto” when the lights are off for a good while.

  33. Janis Gore says:

    The repairs cost $240. Couple of 15″ dripless tapers costs $3.

  34. Janis Gore says:

    The tapers I use burn 12 hours.

  35. Janis Gore says:

    Speaking of new media, Tasty Bits, a South Louisiana boy offers these tips to hurricane victims:

    If you know anybody who has been affected, here are a few tips to pass along:

    1) GET FLOOD INSURANCE. (for everybody)
    2) Have somebody help them go through their things, and keep them from tossing everything. Five years later, they will wish they still had some of the things they tossed.
    3) Warped, splitting, cracked wood can be repaired. Dry it as best as possible, and get a furniture restorer later.
    4) American made sofas cannot be replaced, but they can be re-covered.
    5) Reputable contractors will have a waiting list, and they will be more expensive. Make temporary repairs, and wait for a reputable contractor. A local contractor should have been in a previous year’s phone book.
    6) Get the roof repaired as fast as possible, but use an established roofer. Wait for a reputable roofer.
    7) A carpenter is not a contractor. A butcher and a surgeon cut muscle, but a butcher is not a surgeon.
    The place will be crawling with scammers. Scammers will promise twice much as a reputable contractor. The scammer will purchase the building material in the day, and the materials will be stolen that night.
    9) The Insurance Company is not your friend. The settlement will seem high, but everything will cost twice as much. They will also include cheaper materials – stain-grade fir vs. paint-grade pine.
    10) The government is not your friend. Once you get into and understand the system, it is a lot easier, but it takes time and patience. Also, the people who cheat have much less to lose. Do not take their advice.
    11) People will need 6’ long tables with the plastic tops. The more surface space the better. Folding chairs are helpful also.
    12) Plastic totes work better than boxes, and you can use them for years afterwards.
    13) A used sofa is better than nothing, and a $250.00 Big Lots sofa works great.