Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cyclone Yasi: Overington thinks it hyperbole

Last night, like many people around Australia, I sat watching the television and looking at news on the internet following Cyclone Yasi’s movements across North Queensland. 

In this amazing age of the internet there were a number of webcams set up by people in various places, that provided horrific pictures and audio before they finally cut out due to loss of power. One webcam in Ingham was showing only blackness, but the sound of the cyclone passing was nothing less than a shriek of nature at its most terrible.

I went to sleep, and slept lightly, hoping and praying for good news in the morning, but my head knew not to expect much.

The morning brought news that the worst had not occurred, but that for all talk of “dodged bullets”, Yasi had not been overestimated. Yes the city of Cairns was fortunate not to get the full force of the storm, but in the towns of Mission Beach, Tully, Innisfail, Ingham, and Cardwell no one is talking about missing bullets, except in terms that no one died.

Take this view of Cardwell:

Yasi cardwell

Yes roofs are mostly still intact, but you don’t need to be familiar with the town to know that something very awful has happened. Something monstrous. Something that could have killed.

A look at the main street of Tully tells a similar tale:

Yasi - Tully

Everyone, I think would agree that the destruction caused by Yasi was phenomenal; that it was frightening; that it was something no one would wish upon their worst enemy; and that it was only through luck and excellent management that no one died.

Well everyone except The Australian's Caroline Overington.

This afternoon I foolishly decided to have a read of her “Media Diary blog”, whereupon I saw this headline:

Much ado

Was this “Much ado” (as in, much ado about nothing) the headline for her piece of News.corp onanism dealing with the launch of the new ipad e-newspaper? (Because hell, a newspaper on the internet, wow, that’s revolutionary.) Err no. The headline and the piece of utter contemptuous tripe that Overington wrote was to do with Cyclone Yasi:

A resident of north Queensland has just called into Sydney radio to say the roof of their cubby house was blown off during Cyclone Yasi.

Also, reports of garage doors being battered. Some poles are down. Palm trees have of course lost fronds.


Well hell, sorry Caroline, next time we will be sure to let people up in North Queensland know that you prefer your cyclones to be tragic.

“Palm trees have lost fronds”? Oh you mean this?

Yasi Castaway

Or perhaps Overington doesn’t grasp that people’s livelihoods have been destroyed? If not, how about we cheer her up and show her what happens to banana plantations when they meets a Category 5 cyclone:


Maybe Overington thinks losing your income for a year is a piffle? You  know – harden up you lot, it’s not like anything bad happened.

Some poles down, garage doors battered?

Yasi Castaway 2

Her post is even more stupid when you realise it was done at 9:17am this morning – a time when no one was completely sure that no lives had been lost.

But don’t worry Overington really does care – after all here she was on Twitter last night:

What a wonderful country when we down south can't sleep for the love of our brothers and sisters in Queensland#tcyasi

Except we now know that is bullshit. She thought it was all exaggerated. Last night on ABC24 there was lots of footage of webcams. One of them in Townsville was on in the background when the operator of the cam decided to have some fun:

When it happened, everyone on Twitter who saw it laughed and pretty well thought it showed how Aussies keep their sense of humour even in the worst of times. But Overington? No she didn’t think that, rather she thought it showed:

It’s a perfectly Australian response to officialdom, and hyperbole.

Officialdom? Err what officialdom exactly would that be, because the webcam was in the guy’s home, so it’s not like he was being pushed around by pedantic officials. Perhaps she means the officialdom that ensured people were evacuated and given adequate warning and told to prepare for the worst? You know, the officialdom which deserves almost all the credit for ensuring no one died.

Was it officialdom of the kind of Noelene Byrne, the Red Cross worker, who decided to close the citizens senior hall in Tully and sent the ten senior citizens to Tully evacuation centre? If so I don’t think anyone is mocking that officialdom because is saved those people’s lives:

NOELENE BYRNE: So I just made a quick decision and ... so I closed it down, transferred people up to the Tully Red Cross centre, and I'm now in front of the senior citizens and it's just one mangled heap.
Had I let the people there there would've been loss of lives.
The destruction is just heartbreaking. It's just one big mangled heap. Everything's just collapsed, there's only the front door of the hall that is standing. The rest is just one big scrap heap.

And what “hyperbole”? Obviously the hyperbole of the cyclone (remember – pfft, no big deal, “Palm trees have lost fronds”)

Maybe she should tell her own newspaper to reduce the hyperbole because here’s what it said:

“Cyclone Yasi whirled out of the heat and humidity of a tropical afternoon with the intensity and shocking violence of a nuclear explosion. In my part of this shrieking world of wind and driving rain, the windows are shaking, the doors are rattling and trees are bent over…. will the roof hold?” McKenna reports. 

Overington’s response is utterly disgraceful. I was as angry when I read it as I would have been had someone written in response to the terrible news of Corporal Atkinson’s death in Afghanistan that it wasn’t that big a deal because only one person died.

Should Overington ever get the opportunity to once again speak at a “Future of the media” conference (yeah, I know), maybe she can talk about how she covered Cyclone Yasi. She could tell the audience how she decided it was all a bit of a joke. She could say how she saw the destruction and the loss of people’s homes and she thought the best response was to laugh at them, to mock them.

At that point she may also like to talk about why the public holds the journalism profession in such contempt.

Oh but really, we should spare a thought for her – after all, she’s in Sydney doing it tough don’t ya know – from Twitter this afternoon she tells us:

Alright. Enough with the 37 degrees already.

Poor petal; someone should organise a telethon for her.

UPDATE: In my anger, while writing this post I in effect suggested Overington would have preferred a death or two to accompany the cyclone. That was wrong of me, and a very stupid thing to write. I do not think she would want that, and am sorry I wrote it. I apologise to her for causing any offence. (I should note, I do this not because I have been asked, but because it is the right thing to do). I generally do not write the blog posts in anger, but given the time I had spent living in Cairns, and the people I knew who live there and who were, to be pretty frank, bloody scared last night, I was incensed at Overginton’s attempt at a joke. I stand by everything else I wrote. If what she wrote is a joke, I think it badly misfired, and was offensive. But that’s no excuse for me being offensive as well.

My apologies.

UPDATE 2: I’ve placed all comments in moderation for now. A couple got through that were just abuse, and I don’t want that here. I don’t know how to turn off comments on this post only, so I’ll keep it all on moderation for now. The tone of these responses makes me wish I hadn’t written this piece at all.


Wordsfailme said...

So very tempting to stereotype her response as a consequence of living with a vapid, narcissistic "Sydney-is-the-centre-of-the-universe" attitude.

Next she'll be complaining about the price of bananas.

Oh wait. She already has:

ern malleys cat said...

I notice there are no comments on her article. Presumably none would pass the 'no vilification' test. She really must be quite thick to not realise that mocking disaster is inappropriate, when she had ample opportunity to actually find out the extent of the damage.

But it's not just her. Surely an editor must have decided this was worthy of space.

I think Overington's real problem is that she thinks she's a comedian. I've seen a few efforts of hers that are not nearly as funny as she obviously thinks. Maybe it was heat stress.

paddy said...

Greg, C.O's appalling effort had rendered me speechless with rage and disgust all day.
So glad she didn't have the same effect on you.
(Or Possum) :-)
Thanks for this.

Helen said...

Having read the original post, I see she's gone for the very quick 2-sentence drive-by type of post, like Tim Blair. She'll go for the plausible deniability: "But I didn't meeeeeeeeeeeeeean what you claimed I meant..."

Rod Hagen said...

It is frightening how lucky parts of Queensland were last night. If Yasi hadn't done a nice little wobble to the left in the last hour or so? (thank the stars it didn't wobble right or Cairns would be history)

If it had stuck to the timetable predicted earlier in the day?

If a major city like Cairns had been built where Cardwell or Innisfail was? If the high pressure system north of New Zealand hadn't had a bit of a northern kick in its tail to keep Yasi north of Townsville...

Almost makes you think that if there was a god she or he must have some special affection for a country with an atheist PM!

Queensland didn't just dodge a bullet. It dodged an A Bomb last night. Let's truly hope the luck continues.

Maj said...

In a rich country like Australia, we have enough resources to coordinate sufficiently so we can hope to expect no loss of life in event with notice such as cyclones.

Emergency services did a fantastic job communicating with conviction and urgency what needed to be done. Their goal was to ensure minimal loss of life, but it seems if they succeed in that goal then it was all a beat up - ugh.

Can people not fathom the progress that has been made since Cyclone Tracy and appreciate that authorities have learned from past events - improvements in building standards, warning protocols, communication channels and so on. All designed to prevent deaths. Oh but death is the only marker of tragedy to some people. I guess they'll have to wait for their next mine explosion, avalanche or earthquake to actually find something worthy of their shock and horror... from afar mind you, in the comfort of their cushy homes all fed up to them for their morbid entertainment. People surviving, but lives still devastated, just isn't morbid enough it seems.

Misrule said...

This is the woman that vilifies an entire profession (social workers) in the crassest fashion in her latest "novel". THERE'S a few hours of my life I'll never get back. I hope to never read another word she writes—especially after this!

crazyjane13 said...

My young niece was so terrified by the sound of roofs tearing off and trees being uprooted that she didn't calm down for hours after the worst had passed. The town is a mess, their house will need its ceiling replaced and they're without water or power for an unknown period.

And her family got off lightly. I'd like to see Overington tell the people of Cardwell or Innisfail it was all 'hyperbole'.

Anonymous said...

"someone should organise a telethon for her."

It's ok, I hear that Tony Abbott is asking for people to donate to buying her a new air conditioner.

Zoe said...

Well God knows what Latika Bourke is thinking, or if she's even thinking at all

Anonymous said...

@ ern malleys cat

There are almost never comments published on her 'media blog'. I have sent comments several times (quite reasonable ones) and nothing is ever published.

Yet another win for newltd's web2.0 strategy, there!

Compare number of comments on recent pieces by

with Janet

or less controversially, Kelly

Luke said...

Another good reason not to read the Australian.

Thirdborn314 said...

So this is what a cranky Grog looks like. Couldn't agree more though. There were some crazies out last night such as neil mitchel and miranda devine.

The ustream footage was brilliant, I felt like I had a cyclone in my own home. I especially liked the storm chasers driving around looking for secure parking spots where their car would not blow away.

Anonymous said...

Your story just reinforced the reason why I don't bother with a newspaper that I once held in high regard.

Greg Jericho said...

I have made an update taking back something I wrote. I based my post on what she wrote. I have no idea what she is like as a person, so let's not descend into name calling.

I think what she wrote was very ill-considered. But that does not mean personal attacks are ok.

CathyW said...

I am so glad I found the link to your post on Twitter. you have said what I have been thinking...but you have said it much better! There have been a couple of people with the Cafe Latte set approach tot he misery of others. You should not apologise for what you wrote.You wrote it well. Has Ms Overington apologised for what she wrote?

Anonymous said...

I'm still following the 'ignore them and they will go away' philosophy on the Oz.


Anonymous said...

Being nasty for money, what a way to make a living...

Craig Thomler said...

This type of news coverage is why I don't bother with commercial TV, I don't listen to commercial radio. and I barely read commercial newspapers (and certainly wouldn't pay for them - the paper is worth more than the ink on it, but toilet paper is cheaper).

Well said Grog. Maybe we need to use Sidewiki to comment on this type of cruel and twisted articles where the editors and publishers won't open comments...

Lynden Barber said...

I think you're missing the point - the way I read it, this was a jab at the radio talkback clowns for reporting such trivia as if it was news. If someone really did call in to complain about the roof of a cubby house being ripped off, then it's pretty silly to let it go to air.

Fiona Katauskas said...

I saw your Overington retweet:

"Yes, I have read Grog's piece. I feel sad about it. But nobody who knows me would come to the same view. Best, C."

Perhaps those who know Caroline OVerington wouldn't come to to the same view but she's not writing for those who know her- she's writing for the general public and her attempt at humour was at best seriously misplaced.

She's used this kind of misunderstood excuse before (remember how George Newhouse just didn't get how fun & bubbly she was being even though she put those winky faced emoticons at the end of her flirtatious emails?).

The fact that she seems to vet any comments on her Media Diary blog shows just how interested in feedback from those who don't "know her"

Greg Jericho said...

Lynden, believe me I tried to read it that way, but I had to jump through too many semantic hoops to get there.

On Twitter she has stated:

"like everyone, i was desperately worried about the cyclone, and Tweeted that, late into the night. ..
"and then woke to joyful news that there had been no deaths .. and I was so relieved, when I heard what they were reporting
"that I blogged what they were saying: a roof off a cubby house, palm fronds down, and so on."

So yeah it's she is trying to joke about how relieved she was, but I do not think it is a jab at the talkback clowns. (nor a good joke)

And actually I don't think it necessarily is that stupid a call - we don't know the context. The guy might have said "we were bloody lucky, all we lost was the cubby house".

Anonymous said...

If no-one died from Yasi, does that mean it was not really dangerous? If only 22 Diggers have died in Afghanistan does that mean it is not a real war?
If Rupert Murdoch doesn't ring various Presidents and PMs every day does that mean they are not mindful of his influence?
If no-one reads crap, does it mean it was never written?
I wouldn't know Ms Overington from a blocked drain, but I am able to recognise obsequious adherence to News Ltd's policy of lazy journalism whereby they go in all guns blazing when governments and public sector agencies stuff up but choose to neglect/ignore it when they get it right. Seems unless the media gets a casualty and thus human interest/tragedy for focus, and of course someone to blame, they are incapable of reporting the truth. I don't know whether Ms Overington is really so insensitive and lacking in empathy or whether it was just the usual obsequious adherence to editorial demands for mindless controversy. However I hope she was able to draw comfort from going home to her loving family in their safe house this evening, secure in the knowledge that she and hers are all right.

Shelley said...

I grew up in Townsville (I now live elsewhere). There was no over-reaction. I have never seen, or vicariously experienced, a more frightening night.
Nor have (most of) my family and friends still in the town. I think we're all amazed that things are mostly standing (for those in Townsville anyway) and that so far everyone seems safe.
In other news, my parents' house not has a fetching leaf green external wall. Something of a collage effect I've been told.

Anonymous said...

I reckon Overington is like dozens of other hacks stuck in these low-cost under–resourced media centres now located in southern capitals. Forced to rely on humour or what might be kindly described as creative ‘takes’ on serious topics, they lose credibility out of frustration and limited access to facts. Protesting or persisting under such conditions is professional suicide. Surely by now the media - like other industries and professions - now realises there's value in regulation, standards and arbitration. Let it rip free markets and even high IQ's have never sorted out what best serves consumers, workers and investors. The media is no exception.

Liz said...

Re Ms Overington's tweets, if that is what she felt, why didn't she write it in her column?

Helen said...

["Yes, I have read Grog's piece. I feel sad about it. But nobody who knows me would come to the same view. Best, C."]

As I predicted, the plausible deniability. "Much Ado" is generally followed by "...about nothing". Right? Or are we going to blame the subeditor? Oh, wait, probably yes!

Anonymous said...

I know Fiona Katsaukas has touched on this in her comment, but I'd like to put it another way.
The faux outrage about your excellent response just because it is driven a by real emotional reaction appears to me nothing but some sort of claim to high moral ground by Overington and her cadre.
Sadly it appears to be the typical reaction of some when are criticized for bad judgement and, as I've discovered recently, worth nothing but instant disregard.
Well done for recognizing your own misjudgment, it's a pity certain Australian "journalists" don't sometimes practice the same critical thinking about their own output.

Kevin Rennie said...

As a "survivor" of Cyclone Monica in 2006, here's my take:

Cyclone Yasi Terror: Not Crying Wolf

supercededman said...

How the mighty have fallen. This sort of garbage, from someone who was capable of exposing the Wheat Board’s lies, to this … now a poor excuse for a ‘journalist’ who writes this tripe.

Some time back I sent her a number of emails noting the brevity (and poor quality) of her posts on that poor excuse for a column. She’d been regaling her readers with how she’d broken her arm and was forced to take it easy – you know, by typing with one hand only. Self-obsessed is hardly the word to describe her writing now, and when you compare it to how tough some people are really doing it now it makes me want to puke.

Sheesh …..

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'm glad you wrote this piece Grog. I'm finding some of the 'get over it' comments made in general by peeps on Twitter and FB hard enough to resist from commenting on. A trained journo I would think should know better than to create such an insensitive piece within hours of such a tragic and terrifying natural event. Has our society just lost its moral compass or something?

Good on you for clearing up where you lost integrity and keep being real. Personally, I find it refreshing.

And on The Australian - I stopped reading it years ago (used to love my Sat morning with my big paper). To me, its full of political propoganda.

Jaeger said...

"If no-one reads crap, does it mean it was never written?"

No, but we can hope that crap will cease to be written in future.

Anonymous said...

love your work Grog, really think you are the most brilliant political commentator in Australia.
but in general think your post on this occasion was disproportionate and (as you seem to acknowledge) conceived in anger. doubtless CO has been a bit silly here, and she has a checkered record to say the least. still, given it was just a few one sentence throwaways she has dashed off, it might have been better to note your disapproval in passing or ignore entirely. not worthy of a blog post imo on a day when the focus really should be on the carnage and the cleanup, not getting stuck into other politicians/commentators.
im sure all part of the learning experience, i still love your work though:)

Jaeger said...

There was a twitter post last night that said: "The misery of North Queenslanders has been compounded by arrival of crews from A Current Affair & TodayTonight." (I'm not sure who to attribute it to - possibly "mediahunter" or "thetivoguy"?)

I assumed it was satire, but having seen Grant Denyer barging into a badly damaged home unannounced and confronting the owners, I shudder to think what ACA & TT were up to! Disgusted.

Anonymous said...

doesn't surprise coming from a journo from the "Australian"

Anonymous said...

I think you're being way too hard on yourself....but if you have particular ethical standards that you think you failed to abide by, then well done.

Patricia WA said...

I've been trying to comment at media sites about the brilliant work done by Anna Bligh and her government with their forward planning and efforts throughout this disaster. Her leadership and coordination with the Queensland police, weather information and rescue services together with other community organisations like Red Cross, in preparing the State for this unprecedented climatic event has undoubtedly saved hundreds of lives. Their thorough preparations and conscientious attention to detail throughout the past few days have been an inspiration to watch. Wonderful what good government can do working with the cooperation of its citizens! I can’t understand why there’s not more mention of this in the media. Are they disappointed perhaps that there’s so little drama and loss of life to report? I guess good news is no news.

Not quite as heinous as Overington's article but still offensive was a comment I thought
I heard on the ABC about Bligh having to defend her caution over the potential threat of Cyclone Yasi.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Maj on this one: the cyclone was a disaster. That it failed to take any lives is a tribute more to excellent warning systems; a country-wide commitment to learning from what went wrong in previous years; a strong effort on the parts of folks who were living in the affected regions to circumvent the worst of what Murphy's Law could throw at them (by battening everything down and cleaning everything up); and a very well-trained emergency services system than any mitigation of the actual force of the cyclonic winds. There's also the happy truth that as Australians, we're culturally conditioned to deal with a landscape and a set of weather systems which at times appear to be actively working to kill us off - there's a strong degree of bloody-mindedness in our national attitude, as well as a willingness to stand up again after being knocked over.

Yeah, it doesn't produce the same sorts of tragic photos and newsworthy pictures something like the Haitian earthquakes did, or even the degree of human suffering Hurricane Katrina produced in southern Louisiana. However, to the majority of thinking Australians, I'm sure this is not a bug in the system - it's a feature. It means we can get on with picking everything up, hammering the dents out of the roof, nailing everything back down, replanting the vegetation, and scraping the foreshore off the carpet without having to tell some no-name journo to get that camera the heck out of the way (more or less).

I have nothing but respect for the folks living in those towns, who had to live through the cyclone, and who now have to live through the clean-up. I hope to heaven there's a few of them who have the guts to face down any journo who invades their community and demand they pick up a broom, a mop or a shovel and start working before they'll get any damn interviews. I have nothing but respect for the people of Queensland in general - they've had a hellish time of it these last couple of months, and I desperately hope the weather gives them a break some time soon. However, I'm fast reaching the point where I have nothing but disdain for the dills in the press.

PB said...

I read your mea-culpa post before reading this one. When I turned to this one I was expecting something horrendous. I didn't see anything of the kind. Mostly you let the pictures and Overington's tweets do the talking. I really don't think it was necessary to put up a mea-culpa post to follow this one.

Kyna62 said...

I've been thinking about this since I first read Ms Overington's Media Diary item. I'm a lot calmer now than I was then.

There were, I think, two errors of judgement in that article. If what Ms Overington intended to convey was a sense of relief, then she could easily have made that clear by stating that, thus changing the entire tone of the piece. The other error is the headline, for reasons that I think should be obvious. That was what most offended me about the piece. Of course she can weasel out of that one by saying she didn't add the expected "about nothing", but the inference was clear.

Ms Overington is (the Oz tells us) "a senior writer and columnist". She should be well aware that tone is hard to convey in text, particularly in such a brief piece. She shouldn't be surprised if after such an emotional night, her brief piece - with its offensive headline - was interpreted in the light of people's emotions.

People in the path of Yasi had just spent what will undoubtedly be one of the most terrifying nights of their lives. It really wasn't the time for an experienced columnist to be careless about the tone of her piece.

As an aside, on the cubby issue: as a parent, I can only try to imagine what it must have been like for parents (who were probably terrified themselves) to reassure their children during the cyclone. A cubby house may not be much in the grand scheme of things, but to the kids who owned that cubby house it was probably much-loved and a big part of their normal everyday lives. Now it's damaged and unusable as they start to recover from their experience of Yasi and try to get back to normality. Sometimes even the loss of the smallest things can be devastating for those affected.

Greg Jericho said...

Thanks for all your comments, very interesting reading.

Susan P. said...

I've read this article a couple of times and seen related Twitter conversations between Greg and Caroline and (dare I presume) one or two of Caroline's friends/peer group.

I don't know any of these people personally but I do spend a great deal of time in social media and reading and analysing scores of responses re various world and national events.

So, let me say this..Australia, as much as we would prefer it isn't so, remains somewhat class system based - at least when it comes to many senior journalists and media influencers. And a type of 'sitting on high above' is creeping out both in traditional media and social media. In my experience this is far more obvious among women than men..particularly in channels such as Twitter.

I have found a core of women 'of society' on Twitter who live extraordinarily secure and safe lives and who are largely out of touch with how the average Aussie in 'burbs lives. And yet, they spend a good deal of their time commenting on events that most average Aussies experience and deal with.

You can often pick these women on by their conversations. Firstly, you're sometimes not sure if they are being dry, or condescending - certainly the 'loss of palm fronds' is a stand out comment from Caroline. I interpreted that as a fairly dismissive quip and because it came at the end of what she said (at that point), all that came before was effectively wiped. It all looked a little condescending. I assume that a seriously experienced journo would be very careful about expression at a time of national tragedy.

If Julia Gillard had said the same thing..."oh well, just a few palm fronds have gone at this point".. do you consider that the press would have let that go?? Of course not and I dare say Caroline may have been one of the people who jumped.

Despite Greg admitting that he should not have made the comment that he ultimately did..where is HER reflexivity on this issue? Why is she apparently unable to say... "You know, that phrasing wasn't best from me and I can see how it was interpreted...I need to do better in future".

I don't much admire people jumping on Greg in social media because they are friends with Caroline or are sympathetic with her. We are all often forgiving of people we know and relate to if they make gaffes. BUT, doing that in a public arena is as potentially knee jerk as Greg was and as unfair and subjective.

Her friends also need to consider that she IS a journo and that this is how most Aussies will view her statements and assertions. Pal-like understanding and being aghast and upset in her defence simply isn't going to cut it with most people looking on because you're not holding her to be accountable as a professional.

Greg as equally needs to ask himself whether Caroline may have been getting under his skin for a while and whether that could lead him to 'see' things that aren't there.

I think Caroline could have done better (and Greg could have applied restraint at the end). At the same time, none of us are error free when it comes to writing opinion in the public arena. We all make errors and how we react to ensuing critique is what partially defines us.

Putting energy into being offended seems an odd practice for a journo. Most spend their lives critiquing others - unable to accept it?