Eyes on the storm

With landfall of Hurricane Florence imminent, coverage of the storm is dominating television news and newspaper front pages. Florence has weakened to a Category 1 hurricane, but The Weather Channel warns that the storm, now creeping slowly across the North Carolina coast, will bring “catastrophic inland rainfall flooding, life-threatening storm surge and destructive winds” to the southeast.

As I write this newsletter in the 6:00 hour, all three broadcast networks are in special coverage mode, with journalists on the ground in Florence’s path. Last night, ABC’s David Muir, CBS’s Jeff Glor, and NBC’s Lester Holt all anchored their networks’ evening broadcasts from the field, and cable news reporters blanketed the coast with firsthand reports. Poynter’s Kristen Hare has an overview of how local outlets in Virginia and the Carolinas are preparing to cover the storm, even as some are forced to evacuate their offices.

As preparations for Florence commanded attention, President Trump notified his followers on Twitter that government agencies were “supplied and ready”. On Thursday morning, he also decided to revisit last year’s devastation in Puerto Rico. Trump tweeted, without evidence, that “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico.” He falsely added that the death total was inflated after the fact by political opponents: “This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible.” A recent study of Maria’s aftermath led to the official death toll being revised upward to 2,975 people.

RELATED: CBS’s David Begnaud on covering Puerto Rico when few others did

Trump’s comments earned widespread condemnation across social media and cable news, including on Fox, where the panel on Outnumbered sharply criticized the president’s “disgusting” conspiratorial claims. “It cheapens us as a country,” Harris Faulkner said. On Wednesday, Trump had called the government’s response to Maria “an incredible, unsung success.” The AP’s Danica Coto and Angeliki Kastanis report that the president’s claim stung residents whose daily reality includes blackouts, makeshift rebuilding efforts, and the memory of thousands who died or left the island following the storm.

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With the anniversary of Maria’s landfall less than a week away, it’s hard not to compare the president’s Florence warnings and the media coverage in the southeast with the relative inattention paid to Puerto Rico. As Florence’s full impact is felt over the coming days, journalists will continue to file updates from the field. That’s important coverage, but it shouldn’t overshadow an honest reflection of what happened to American citizens a year ago.

Below, more on the coverage of Florence’s impact and Maria’s aftermath.

  • Rescues underway: The Raleigh News & Observer reports that hundreds have already been rescued along the North Carolina coast.
  • Front-page coverage: The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today are leading their homepages with stories on Florence’s impact. “Residents and emergency personnel throughout inland North and South Carolina were working under the grim assumption that the Category 1 storm’s pounding of the coastline would be only the first powerful punch in a fight that could go many rounds and last for many days,” write the Times’s Richard Fausset, Campbell Robertson, and David Zucchino.
  • Context for Trump’s tweet: NYU’s Jay Rosen tweets that Trump’s rejection of the official death toll in Puerto Rico is “of a piece with his campaign to discredit the news media, his put down of diplomatic experience, his refusal or inability to be briefed—about anything—and of course his pathological lying. These are all one thing.”
  • Trump defenders: Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs backed Trump’s offensive tweets, arguing that a coordinated campaign inflated the number of deaths caused by Maria in order to discredit the administration’s response. “The numbers were inflated, and the president was right,” Dobbs said. The Washington Post’s Robert Costa reported that, in conversations with more than a dozen House Republicans, he heard little criticism of the president’s tweets on Puerto Rico, with most offering hearty praise. “A revealing snapshot of the GOP,” Costa wrote.


Other notable stories:

  • GQ Editor in Chief Jim Nelson is out after 15 years at the top, reports the New York Post’s Alexandra Steigrad. The move comes as Condé Nast continues to cut costs at is titles. “I’ve been at GQ for 21 years and in this job for more than 15—a good, long, productive run, not to mention a ton of fun—and I’ve gotten to work with some of the most talented writers, editors, photographers, designers, and creative minds in the business,” Nelson wrote in a memo to staff. He will be replaced by Will Welch, GQ’s current creative director and editor in chief of GQ Style.
  • The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan writes that the harm caused by abusive media moguls stretches beyond individual victims, infecting the way news is delivered. “A media figure doesn’t have to show up for a business meeting in an open bathrobe to do harm,” she writes. “He can help frame the coverage of a candidate’s supposedly disqualifying flaws. He can squelch a writer’s promising work. He can threaten an underling’s job if she doesn’t stay in line and remember who really runs the show around here.”
  • CJR’s Mathew Ingram examines how The Outline found itself in dire financial straits. “How did this alternative media venture become just as broken as the outlets it hoped to displace, laying off dozens of staff in round after round of downsizing?” he asks. “The answer is partly editorial ambition (or hubris) and partly poor timing, and provides yet another example of how venture capital funding and building a digital media business rarely go well together.”
  • Michael Avenatti’s appearance on Tucker Carlson’s primetime show went about as expected. “A discussion that was barely civil at its start quickly spun out of control, devolving into a shouting match between the Fox News host and the lawyer taking on President Donald Trump,” writes Mediaite’s Amy Russo. In a ridiculous show of Carlson’s lack of seriousness, Fox News chyrons mocked Avenatti throughout the segment as a “creepy porn lawyer.”
  • Loren Mayor has been promoted to the newly created position of NPR’s President of Operations. According to a press release, Mayor has spent the past year leading NPR’s efforts to improve workplace culture, “meeting with groups of employees, taking actions based on employee concerns, and overseeing the implementation of initiatives that improve accountability and make NPR a more equitable place to work.”

ICYMI: Fager out at 60 Minutes as the crisis at CBS spirals

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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.