The media are pathetic. But that doesn’t mean they can’t hit an all-time low yet again.
Take Sharpiegate. Yes, every little thing in Washington eventually gets a “-gate” suffix, no matter how insignificant.
As Hurricane Dorian moved across the Caribbean last month, very early forecasts showed the possibly Category 5 storm might hit Florida hard. In what are called “spaghetti models” — a couple of dozen lines showing projections for where a given tropical storm or hurricane might go — one showed Dorian crossing Florida and moving into the Gulf of Mexico before doubling back across the state. Several showed the path crossing over into parts of Alabama.
The storm was still hundreds of miles east of Puerto Rico, so the models were virtually meaningless.
President Trump and acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin K. McAleenan updated the media on Dorian in an Oval Office briefing. Mr. Trump held up a map from the National Hurricane Center that showed the “cone” of the storm. But on the edge, drawn in black magic marker, was another smaller half-circle that extended the cone into the Florida panhandle and Alabama.
Then the real hurricane descended on Washington, the media declaring that Mr. Trump had falsely claimed that the hurricane was going to “hit” Alabama. At one point, The Washington Post cited an unnamed source saying Mr. Trump himself had drawn the half-circle on the big map, asserting that Mr. Trump is known to use Sharpies.
The “scandal” quickly became #Sharpiegate.
Day after day, the media penned pieces on how Mr. Trump had said Alabama was ground zero for Dorian. By Sept. 5 — Day 7 of the biggest story in Washington — Mr. Trump took to Twitter to defend himself.
“In the early days of the hurricane, when it was predicted that Dorian would go through Miami or West Palm Beach, even before it reached the Bahamas, certain models strongly suggested that Alabama & Georgia would be hit as it made its way through Florida & to the Gulf,” Mr. Trump tweeted.
Mr. Trump followed up by tweeting: “Alabama was going to be hit or grazed, and then Hurricane Dorian took a different path (up along the East Coast). The Fake News knows this very well. That’s why they’re the Fake News!”
On and on the major “scandal” went. It got stupider and stupider, sure, but on it went nevertheless.
Before we move on with The Story of the Century, let’s stop and point out that huge hurricanes — which Dorian certainly was — often have major rain and wind bands that stretch for hundreds of miles. Based on the very early projection, had Dorian come straight into Florida, Alabama would surely had been affected — if not by hurricane-force winds, at least by heavy rain and possible flooding.
Doubt that? Think back to Hurricane Irene in 2011. The media spent days breathlessly saying the huge storm was projected to directly hit New York City. It didn’t. But it did hit — Vermont. Hard. Almost every river and stream in Vermont flooded and many of the historic covered bridged were damaged or destroyed.
Hurricanes affect areas hundreds of miles from where they make landfall. Case closed.
By Sept. 7, the whole story started to change.
“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a statement from an unidentified spokesman stating that information provided by NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to the president had demonstrated that ‘tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama,’” The Associated Press reported. “The advisories were dated from last Wednesday, Aug. 28, through Monday, the statement read.”
“Parts of Alabama were covered, usually with 5% to 10% chances, between Aug. 27 and Sept. 3. Maps on Aug. 30 grew to cover far more of Alabama, but for only 12 hours, and the highest percentage hit 20% to 30% before quickly shrinking back down,” the AP said.
And there you go. At least for some period of time, the storm — or its remnants, or its outer bands, or something — was expected to affect Alabama.
Mr. Trump wasn’t wrong, but the media just couldn’t let it go. And they sought out people who would say so.
“People are used to the president saying things that aren’t true, but this Alabama stuff is another story,” sources told the heavily liberal site The Independent in a piece headlined “‘Trump is in severe mental decline’: Concerns raised over president’s health.”
“No one knows what to expect from him anymore,” one former White House official told Business Insider, speaking anonymously.
Then Britain’s Daily Mail tabloid, got into the act. “Workers in the National Weather Service are ‘shocked, stunned and irate’ at their bosses in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for backing Trump up and claiming that he was right to say Hurricane Dorian was headed for Alabama.”
But now, two weeks later — and long after Dorian came and went — the story is finally losing wind.
Only to be replaced by this from The New York Times: “Trump Had Deal With Scotland Airport That Sent Flight Crews to His Resort.”
Get ready for a week of #Resortgate — and more idiocy from America’s media.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @josephcurl.
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