Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Sandy, the rare storm that lived up to media hype

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
updated 4:00 PM EST, Wed November 28, 2012
Cleaning crews work in Manhattan's financial district following damage from Superstorm Sandy on Monday, November 12. <strong><a href='http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/30/us/gallery/ny-sandy/index.html' target='_blank'>View photos of New York's recovery.</a></strong> Cleaning crews work in Manhattan's financial district following damage from Superstorm Sandy on Monday, November 12. View photos of New York's recovery.
HIDE CAPTION
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
11.sandy.damage.1030
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
97
98
99
100
101
102
103
104
105
106
107
108
109
110
111
112
113
114
115
116
117
118
119
120
121
122
123
124
125
126
127
128
129
130
131
132
133
134
135
136
137
138
139
140
141
142
143
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Howard Kurtz: TV coverage of storms is sometimes overblown, designed to goose ratings
  • He says TV news can jump gun, get facts wrong, but in weather disaster it's understandable
  • Viewers ravenous for details, he says. Storm brought unifying moment in midst of campaign
  • Kurtz: After Katrina, media cover every storm like it's huge; in this case that was justified

Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.

(CNN) -- A confession: I usually have a knee-jerk reaction when television goes into its extreme-weather mode.

All too often, I've seen the machinery clank into action -- team coverage, breathless anchors, intrepid correspondents getting soaked in the rain -- only to watch the heavily hyped storms peter out. What used to be the province of local eyewitless news, gearing up at the merest threat of thunderstorms or snowfall, long ago became a cable news specialty. It's a surefire way to goose the ratings.

Howard Kurtz
Howard Kurtz

When I was in Tampa for the Republican convention in August, the saturation coverage of Hurricane Isaac helped force organizers to cancel the first night. Then Isaac turned out to be a bust, but the storm coverage continued to compete with the convention right up until Clint Eastwood argued with his chair.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Hurricane Sandy was different. And I found myself grateful for the television coverage, as messy and chaotic as it often is. That is because the weaknesses of live, breaking news can sometimes be its strength.

When news organizations jump the gun in reporting, for example, a Supreme Court decision, or an ailing person's death, it's hard to understand why they couldn't wait a few more minutes to get it right -- why the rush to get it first can trump all else.

Watch: Why Do Crazy Reporters Stand Out in the Rain?

But when a monster storm is devastating the East Coast, the fragmentary reports and incremental information are both riveting and necessary. Even a mistake becomes more understandable in this context.

Lauren Ashburn and Howard Kurtz in the rain.
Lauren Ashburn and Howard Kurtz in the rain.

(A CNN meteorologist cited an erroneous posting from a National Weather Service bulletin board Monday night that the New York Stock Exchange was filled with three feet of water; the network quickly issued an on-air correction.)

The correspondents braving the elements seemed less like grandstanders and more like dogged fact-finders. Each development -- "Landfall near Atlantic City!" "Crane down in Manhattan!" "Flooding in Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel!" -- became part of a shared community experience. At least for those who still had power.

Watch: Is Hurricane Sandy's Dominant Coverage Hurting Mitt Romney?

And that, even in this age of media fragmentation, may be cable TV's greatest service. We watch and experience the highs and lows together, even those in parts of the country that are unaffected. It is the polar opposite of a presidential campaign, with its relentless hyper-partisanship. In fact, by upending the final week of the campaign, the hurricane and the media attention surrounding it provided a uniquely unifying moment.

Tour New York's flooded subways
Sandy ravages Atlantic City boardwalk
Resident devastated by Sandy talks fire
Booker: 'Difficult days ahead' for N.J.

Hurricane Hotties in D.C.: Still Stripping During Sandy

Social media played a key role as well. On Instagram, the photo-sharing app, users were posting 10 Sandy photos every second -- more than 244,000 tagged #sandy by Monday afternoon. No news organization could beat that. Twitter exploded with messages and updates about the hurricane, along with expressions of concern. For the 140-character generation, it was the online equivalent of gathering around the TV set in the pre-Internet days.

But the vulnerability of social media, with its lack of editors or grownup supervision, was on display as well. The web, especially Tumblr and Twitter, also were flooded with fake photos -- stock images that had been altered or were misrepresented as having been taken during Sandy. One picture, carried by the Washington Post, Daily Beast and NPR, showed sentinels guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; it turned out to be have been taken last month. Editors at London's Guardian asked readers to help them spot the bogus shots by using the Twitter hashtag #FakeSandy.

Watch: Many Americans Think Obama Is Jewish? Oy.

Journalism, to be sure, is better at quick snapshots than long-term probing. Since the candidates have scarcely talked about climate change, it has almost disappeared from the media radar screen. But the violent storms of recent years -- the Snowmaggeddon, the derecho, now the most far-ranging hurricane in modern memory -- suggest that we have plunged into a new and more dangerous era. Reporters need to be more aggressive in examining the role of environmental change in these superstorms.

I still think there is a tendency, in the wake of Katrina, to cast every storm as a potential Category 5 killer. But given the magnitude of Hurricane Sandy, which killed at least 33 people in the United States and knocked out power to more than 7.5 million, the media hype was more than justified.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:20 PM EDT, Sat September 13, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
A Scottish vote for independence next week could trigger wave of separatist tension in Europe, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 6:12 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
You couldn't call him a "Bond villain" in the grand context of Dr. No or Auric Goldfinger. They were twisted visionaries of apocalypse whose ideas were to be played out at humanity's expense.
updated 1:05 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
As a Latina activist I was hurt to hear the President would delay executive action to keep undocumented immigrants with no criminal record from getting deported.
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 6:24 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Stevan Weine says the key is to stop young people from acquiring radicalized beliefs in the first place.
updated 1:30 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
US Currency is seen in this January 30, 2001 image. AFP PHOTO/Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)
Lisa Gilbert says a million people have asked the SEC to make corporations disclose political contributions.
updated 12:55 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Christi Paul says unless you've walked in an abused woman's shoes, don't judge her, help her get answers to the right questions: Why does he get to hit her? And why does nobody do anything to stop him?
updated 3:32 PM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says several other NFL players arrested recently in domestic violence are back on the field. Roger Goodell has shown he is clueless on abuse. He must go.
updated 1:59 PM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Newt Gingrich says President Obama has a remarkable opportunity Wednesday night to mobilize support for a coalition against ISIS.
updated 8:41 PM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Texas senator says Obama should seek congressional authorization for a major bombing campaign vs. ISIS.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT