With Hurricane Irene in the rearview mirror, the media is playing its favorite game: examining its own coverage.
Seemingly the entire press gave the weekend over to Irene. On television, there was no escaping the coverage, as networks pulled in their top talent and blanketed the East Coast with correspondents.
But Irene was weaker than expected in many places along the East Coast — especially in New York City, where so much of the national media is located. As the predicted dire effects of the storm failed to materialize, many critics and reporters quickly pounced, saying that the media (and cable news in particular) had overhyped Irene and caused millions needless fear.
The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz led the way on Sunday with a harshly critical column about cable news coverage.
"Cable news was utterly swept away by the notion that Irene would turn out to be Armageddon," he wrote. "...The tsunami of hype on this story was relentless, a Category 5 performance that was driven in large measure by ratings."
The Daily Telegraph's US correspondent Toby Harnden echoed that sentiment, writing that some of the coverage of Irene was "beyond parody."
This argument was quickly praised by many media watchers. It also received substantial pushback, especially from the cable news reporters who found themselves targets of criticism.
"Not overblown to the families of the people who died, or those who suffered damage in the billions," CNN's Soledad O'Brien tweeted to Kurtz on Sunday.
On Fox News, Shepard Smith read out a comment calling the storm a "tempest in a teacup."
"It's not, sir," he frostily responded. Later, Smith tweeted, "Even though it was a weaker storm remember all of those who will be affected by the flooding.
Some outside media watchers also scoffed at the argument. "The more stories I hear, the more flood images I see, the more I think people saying this was nothing are out to lunch," Reuters' Anthony DeRosa tweeted.
On Monday, the "Today" show devoted a long segment to the question. Not surprisingly, the panel the show assembled defended the coverage from the weekend. Al Roker responded to criticism that over-zealous coverage could breed complacency in people, since they might take more serious future warnings with a grain of salt.
"Keep in mind, 23 people are dead," Roker said. "If there's a bear outside your door and I see it and I don't say anything to you I'm irresponsible. It doesn't mean the bear is going to get in and get you."
One channel drawing seemingly universal praise was NY1, the local New York channel. Capital New York's Tom McGeveran said that the channel "managed the neat trick of getting the best footage of the storm and contextualizing it accurately and usefully throughout."
Incidentally, one of the channel's hosts, Errol Louis, was a vocal defender of the broader cable news coverage. "How do you downplay a hurricane heading for 60 million Americans?" he wrote.
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