Irene: The All-Encompassing Terror-Storm That Wasn't

Restaurants in New York City have been tweeting their Sunday brunch offerings, not their structural damages reports. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is declaring "the worst" to be over. A few city streets were flooded, but it wasn't that bad, and the vast majority of people who live along Irene's blustery path up and down the East Coast have survived. How can this be?

Because in many ways, the media made Irene out to be much more than it ended up becoming. Yes, a dozen people died, three or four million others are still without power, and raging waters caused structural damage that will take substantial amounts of money to repair. But given what the media was predicting a day ago, the death toll is fortunately fairly low.

The nation's media critics have been weighing in all morning on the "hurricane hype." Blogger and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis has been waging Twitter battles with people all morning in his effort to restore perspective. "The gap between TV informing us and overhyping is quite broad," he writes. "They could have toned down 100x and we'd be equally informed." The observation makes sense: After being warned of the potential dangers as they became known, how much more did the nation's reporters really need to tell us? The sense of urgency was not always necessary.

Media critic Howard Kurtz blames "the tsunami of hype on this story" in part on Irene's passage through New York City, home to many of the nation's journalists. Journalists know a money-making story when they see one. Weather is just like Casey Anthony and so many other stories made out to be much more life-changing for everyone than they actually were. When Irene didn't live up to her potential as a disaster for the ages, some reporters tried to see the worst anyway, he writes:

Not everyone was willing to accept this turn of events. When the Weather Channel's Brian Norcross told MSNBC that forecasters had been expecting the first hurricane to make landfall in New York City since 1893-"and it didn't happen"-anchor Alex Witt was openly skeptical.

"Really, Brian?" she asked. Hadn't Irene technically still been a hurricane when it came ashore in New York an hour earlier? "Can't we still go with that?"

No, Norcross said.

The convenience of social media only exacerbated the hype, with people tweeting and Facebooking about the storm even when there was nothing urgent to report. Tomorrow's commutes will be rough tomorrow, but in 10 years, how much will any of us even remember "where we were" when Irene struck? [Image via AP]