Friday, August 26, 2011

Media hysterics

With this week's earthquake now a distant memory as far as the media is concerned, we've turned our full attention to Hurricane Irene, which if I'm hearing the media correctly is going to turn Manhattan into an underwater wonderland, a la Waterworld (dry land is not a myth!).

Thanks to CNBC's Bob Pisani, I'm now comfortable with the knowledge that yes, the New York Stock Exchange will open as usual on Monday morning, with many of our treasured investment professionals prepared to sleep in hotel rooms in lower Manhattan over the weekend to facilitate its opening. What brave, hearty souls they are up in New York City, battling back against the expected havoc that will be wrought by Irene, which... might not even officially qualify as a hurricane by the time it gets there.

That's right, this beast of a hurricane that's bearing down on the east coast with all its might isn't a Category 5 storm like Katrina or Ivan, or even a Category 3 storm like Bob, the last major hurricane to strike the Northeast. As of this morning, Irene is a Category 2 storm, which hardly seems to jive with the media hysterics we're witnessing.

Now, don't get me wrong--I fully appreciate the damage that a Category 2 storm can do, having witnessed the aftermath of Hurricane Bob on Cape Cod, which was a weak Category 2 by the time it reached there. Because of that, I'd be particularly worried if I'm anywhere near the point of initial landfall--in North Carolina and Virginia. Some of the outer peninsulas and islands are particularly at risk, and I sincerely hope that they survive the initial force of this storm's landfall intact.

But I'm growing extremely tired of the breathless nature of the news coverage any time anything comes anywhere near the sacred island of Manhattan. Truth be told, "largest hurricane to hit Northeast in 25 years" is sort of a dubious distinction, similar to "largest earthquake to strike Virginia in a century", which provoked no small number of guffaws from our more seismically seasoned friends on the west coast. These incidents--while certainly rare and scary--are considered business-as-usual in other parts of the country, and most likely would barely raise an eyebrow. But put them in New York... and, well, that's a different story.

Perhaps I'm still just a little bitter at how this week's earthquake was covered (the Northeast earthquake? Really? Since when are Charlottesville and Richmond--the two cities closest to the epicenter--in the Northeast? I could've sworn I'd moved to the Mid-Atlantic, if not the South... but I digress), or maybe I'm just generally hard on the New York media ever since I've left the city... but it really does seem like the hysterics in this case have gone into overdrive.

For what is perhaps the first time in my life, I now fully understand what those in most of the country refer to as the "East Coast bias". While I appreciate the value of preparing for the worst and hoping for the best (and I, too, hope for the best, especially for my friends and family in New York and New England), it's also important not to lose perspective. Unfortunately, perspective seems to be something that's in short supply on that little island between Connecticut and New Jersey.

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