2:48 pm Oct. 30, 2012
Throughout the storm New Yorkers were at their best.
Citizens for the most part heeded the warnings and watched out for their neighbors. Emergency workers and police officers performed their usual acts of courage in terrible circumstances. Reporters showed their mettle, too. They risked their necks in thigh-deep water—and a lot of them were working freelance. Sure, a few of them were showboating, in hoods and rubber pants, as they waded through the surge when they might just as easily have done their work from nearby patches of higher ground. But there has always been an element of show-business to television news.
But there were a pair of villains in this crowd of heroes. Two idiotic exceptions.
A couple of local celebrities—Piers Morgan and Donald Trump—made use of Sandy to demonstrate (as if we needed further proof) their total jackassery.
At around 9:30 p.m. on Oct 29, when the tide was beginning to recede and the damage to New York City, Atlantic City, and places in between was becoming all too apparent, CNN's Morgan went big with a story that the New York Stock Exchange lay beneath three feet of water. The reporter he relied on for this piece of information was meteorologist Chad Myers. I was watching the broadcast at the time, and if Myers or Morgan provided a source for this earth-shaking report, neither one made much of it.
Nevertheless, the anchor—who had a checkered career in journalism in the United Kingdom before joining CNN—pounced on the story. He posed leading questions to two correspondents in the field, coaxing them to speculate on the catastrophic effect a flooded stock exchange would have on world markets and the upcoming elections. As visual accompaniment to his "reporting," CNN showed images of sandbags placed outside the Stock Exchange doors. I recall a rueful chuckle or two from Morgan as he observed that the sandbags had not been enough to prevent Sandy's wrath. When I turned off the TV, I had visions of a Dark Knight-like immediate future for my home city.
At a time of crisis, when the news media should be doing its absolute best to report the facts straight, Morgan, onetime editor of London's lurid Daily Mirror tabloid, decided it was the right moment to whip up hysteria. Apparently, you can take the man out of Fleet Street, but you can't take Fleet Street out of the man. Twenty-four minutes later, CNN corrected the mistake.
The other outlier in the storm, Trump, put on a Twitter performance that was not atypical but seemed more obnoxious than usual, given the seriousness of Sandy. He began with an insipid observation: "The winds were bad but the water was worse."
Thanks, Donald. Before long, he was patting himself on the back for having noticed, before the media did, that the crane on West 57th Street was not properly secured. (If this were true, however, why didn't he alert anyone to the problem?) He went hyperpartisan, too, suggesting that Obama will benefit from the storm. And then he hit bottom, tweeting, in a false show of generosity: "Because of the hurricane, I am extending my 5 million dollar offer for President Obama's favorite charity until 12PM on Thursday."
We are probably stuck with Trump. At this point he is a fact of New York life. But Piers Morgan? CNN can send him home at any time. One phone call from CNN president Jim Walton is all it would take.