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 11:39 AM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
updated 2:32 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
updated 5:03 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
updated 5:25 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT