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Blown out of proportion

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With the benefit of hindsight, today’s Boston Globe headline gets it about right: “Tired Irene Slaps N.E.” That put a pithy -- and accurate -- coda on the killer-Hurricane-turned-whimpy-tropical-storm that was the subject of days of breathless anticipatory hype.

In the real-time imperative of yesterday’s television newscasts that were committed to maintaining the drama, however, nothing was going to hold back the effort to make Irene out to be every bit the horrific visitor we had been promised.  But when the hype-at-all-costs marching orders from from station honchos collided with the reality of a storm that delivered a round of heavy wind and rain but was nothing like the deadly storm-of-the-century some had warned of, we were left with this:  The aptly named Channel 5 reporter John Atwater, in a live-shot from Marion on the South Coast just before 11 am, remarking on the wind’s ability to make lawn grass that had only hours earlier been standing perkily upright now lie flattened to the ground. Seriously.  

That came just after he allowed that the gusts were so strong he thought he might need to grip his microphone with both hands. And Atwater reported that the precipitation he was being pelted with was coming from both the sky and sea, so much so that when he sought temporary refuge indoors earlier in the morning, as his faced dried his skin had that salty feel one gets after a dip in the ocean.

And so it went.  

None of this is to say the storm was without consequences -- or that it couldn’t have been much worse.  Thousands are without power, some coastline areas were rearranged, and this morning came news of the first storm-related fatality in Massachusetts. But the reality didn’t come close to matching the media hype before the storm. While a forecasting error can be forgiven, it’s harder to accept the determination to maintain the hype during Irene’s stay, no matter what was happening outside.

The Daily Beast asks: Apocalypse when? The Daily Telegraph takes a similar view. Howard Kurtz calls Irene a “hurricane of hype,” while WBUR’s On Point discussed how society must find the right balance between safety and media hype in an age of extreme weather. The Christian Science Monitor says storm hype is nothing new and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

By mid-afternoon the rain was letting up.  My teenage daughter asked me when the hurricane was arriving. 

                                                                                                                                                         --MICHAEL JONAS


IRENE

MBTA officials defend the decision to suspend service yesterday; riders are not so happy. Utilities urge patience, saying it may be days before power is fully restored. The shelter system on Cape Cod worked. Western Mass is dealing with cresting rivers. Politicians know that their careers can rise or fall based on the responses to natural disasters.

BEACON HILL

Richard Vitale, the one defendant acquitted on all charges in the federal DiMasi corruption case, is pursuing a plea arrangement with state prosecutors who have charged him with lobbying and campaign finance law violations.  

The Springfield Republican says the casino gambit is the only major job creation engine that the state has right now.

The Berkshire Eagle has some ideas about what the state could do with its $430 million budget surplus.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Globe’s Larry Harmon says it’s time for Mayor Tom Menino to put aside his long-standing opposition to Wal-Mart doing business in Boston.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Census data indicate a population shift from blue states to red states. Michael Medved calls it “the great political migration.”

ELECTION 2012

Peter Lucas, in a Lowell Sun column, calls Elizabeth Warren the celebrity candidate the state’s liberals have been waiting for.

The Globe looks at the holes in Rick Perry’s claims to being a job-creatin’ beast. Perry is trying hard to distance himself from George W. Bush. Maybe he shouldn’t: One former GOP governor has called him “Bush without the brains.” The Wall Street Journal looks into the bad blood between Perry and Mitt Romney, which dates back to a shouting match at a 2006 Republican Governors Association meeting.

The New York Times looks at the increasingly blurry lines between campaigns that operate under FEC campaign finance limits and super PACs that can accept unlimited personal, corporate, and union funds. Romney, the paper writes, appeared at a Manhattan fundraiser for his super PAC last month, even though he’s forbidden by federal law from coordinating with the committee.

Michele Bachmann says that God speaks through natural disasters and that those words have something to go with the federal government’s “morbid obesity diet.”

Paul Krugman says a willful ignorance of science has become a national GOP litmus test.

If the race for Anthony Weiner’s New York seat is a referendum on anti-Democratic sentiment, then the special Congressional election in Nevada’s second district is a postcard from apathyville.

EDUCATION

The Globe reports that there will be lots of eyes watching student performance at UP Academy, the first privately-run in-district charter school in Boston, whose doors open today.

HEALTH CARE

Paul Levy, on his Not Running a Hospital blog, urges the new commissioner of the Division of Health Care Finance and Policy to follow through on a pledge to make claims data publicly available to researchers.

ENVIRONMENT

Robert Bryce, writing for the National Review, says Texas wind energy is coming up short during the state’s heat wave. Meanwhile, the American Bird Conservancy says that the expansion of wind energy poses a greater threat to birds and wants to see stronger siting regulations and penalties for bird deaths.

A shorebird survives flight from the Arctic through Irene and is maxin’ and relaxin’ in the Bahamas until he continues on to its winter breeding grounds in Brazil.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Public databases showing where sex offenders live are supposed to help keep residents safer and cut down on recidivism, but mounting evidence suggests that they don’t.

MEDIA

The Cincinnati Enquirer and the Columbus Dispatch are shifting from broadsheet to tabloid on the assumption that readers want a more portable newspaper.

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