["Thar she blows, men!"]
It rained hard in the New York City area overnight, slicking the streets of the great locked-down metropolis and causing flooding in flood-prone sections (including home-basements in suburbs like Montclair, N.J., where the local Keystone Kops had declared martial law.)
My God, it's breathtaking: All those ruined summer-weekend plans, not to mention continuing travel mayhem caused by the cancellation of over 10,000 flights. All of those misled citizens, doing as they were asked to do, trusting that they were not being hyped by excitable officials terrified at being blamed if things went wrong. All of that staggering loss to the economy caused by locking down one of the most vital cities in the world.
The Hurricane That Ate New York was a flop, a big rainy tropical storm that opened in the Big Apple early this morning and closed faster than a seven-dollar road-show. Oh, the officials and the media won't give up easily on this one. They'll be stressing the deaths elsewhere on the East Coast (news flash: all major storms typically cause deaths), the power outages, and the damage (flooding, etc., and of course that damn rickety pier in Nags Head, N.C. that had a railing blow off, video of which was repeated incessantly by the ridiculous Weather Channel) till the cows come home. Or, I should say, till the subways start running again.
The quote of today (so far) comes via a sensible reporter for NPR talking to the sensible owner of the Ducktown Tavern in Atlantic City, which remains open for business despite the astonishing evacuation order covering half of the New Jersey coast: "It's a bullshit storm."
[Here's Howard Kurtz today in the Daily Beast. "But the tsunami of hype on this story was relentless, a Category 5 performance that was driven in large measure by ratings. Every producer knew that to abandon the coverage even briefly—say, to cover the continued fighting in Libya—was to risk driving viewers elsewhere. Websites, too, were running dramatic headlines even as it became apparent that the storm wasn’t as powerful as advertised."]
Yes, there has been sporadic flooding, as there will be with major rainstorms. There are major power outages.
But there has not been a killer hurricane "howling" its "rage" as it "marched" up the East Coast, "lashing" all in its path.
As the backlash to the days-long hysteria-fest gathers force, those responsible for this hysteria will die hard. Rather than admitting they grossly overreacted, they will join forces in mutual reassurance -- in tune with a media amen-chorus -- that their decisions were eminently prudent. They are already dug in, insisting that flooding damage, see, is significant -- which it would also have been in a big tropical storm that wasn't hyped to hell.
The official cover-their-ass justification for all this will be: "Better safe than sorry." That maxim, of course, could be used to justify any folly taken in the face of any perceived danger, and taken to its absurd conclusion could be the argument for not crossing a street.
For those Americans not living on the I-95 corridor, watching this spectacle has been baffling. What the hell was that all about, people elsewhere are asking.
Meanwhile, the defiant official justification will not hold, not once public opinion gets its voice, especially in New York. As they warn in the Navy: Stand by for heavy rolls.
Pretty soon, some very tough questions are going to have to be answered about why this hurricane was hyped so intensely, even long after it became clear that it had degenerated into little more than a big rainstorm before making landfall in North Carolina. Where were the officials getting their information before making these decisions? Why did the media remain totally invested in the "hurricane-from-hell-could-drive-a-wall-of-seawater-between-Gotham-skyscrapers" narrative, long after it should have been clear that this monster was just a big, windy, annoying rainstorm that has caused some inland flooding?
Three governmental officials were largely responsible for triggering the media hype, though this in no way excuses the recklessness of the media and the use of consistently alarming and violent weather-panic language in breathlessly exaggerating the potential of the storm, and the relatively minor effects even as those effects were manifest.
Those officials shall be henceforth known as "Cyclone Mike" Bloomberg, the authoritarian billionaire mayor of New York; "Hurricane Andrew" Cuomo, the dour, secretive governor of New York; and "Thar She Blows" Christie, the snotty, blustery governor of New Jersey who denounced as "dumb" the one New York television reporter who stood out by questioning the hurricane hysteria.