Howard Kurtz, media critic at Daily Beast, has waded into some hot water with his article A Hurricane of Hype. In it, he lambastes television media for the relentless “tsunami of hype on this story [Hurricane Irene]… a Category 5 performance that was driven in large measure by ratings.” And despite all that, the “apocalypse that cable television had been trumpeting had failed to materialize.”
Kurtz has harped on media hype for over 20 years now (I remember reading a book of his in my high school government class), often with pertinent analysis. But with this performance, he’s jumped the shark: his article is an exemplar of anti-hype hype. And any kind of hype, as Kurtz himself would probably be bound to say, is bad analysis.
This collection of photos and videos of the epic flooding in New Jersey, upstate New York, and especially Vermont sends the blogger who compiled it into sarcastic fits (rather deservedly) directed at Kurtz. But this is not analysis either.
Our English concept of analysis traces back to the ancient Greek analysis, a compound of ana “up, throughout” and lysis “a loosening.” To properly analyze a phenomenon, one goes up into and throughout it, loosening connections to see how parts join together to make a whole.
When it comes down to it, Kurtz didn’t improperly analyze the media coverage of Irene: he didn’t analyze it at all. He delivered some anecdotes for his readers to chuckle at, then climbed the bully pulpit to tell us all what we already knew (that television programming is often silly and repetitive).
If you are interested in seeing a true analysis of the media coverage of Hurricane Irene, here’s one conducted by Nate Silver, in which he argues that the level of media coverage was actually fairly proportional to the damage caused. You will notice he begins by delimiting just how far statistical analysis, which is what he conducts, can go towards enlightening us as to how we should conduct ourselves in relation to the statistics – not very.
This hype debate should demonstrate that clarity regarding the limits of analysis is essential to a clear view of the phenomena being analyzed. I would say an appreciation of how our own relation to the phenomena (and even our own analysis) is mediated by our situatedness (in a particular job, locale, etc.) is also of the highest importance. Regarding phenomena of extreme public relevance, such as a hurricane, this is desperately needed.