Monday, May 17, 2010

Radar Love

It never ceases to amaze me when the mainstream media can't even shoot itself in the foot for want of aim.
To-wit: Howard Kurtz in today's Washington Post fumbles fretfully for explanations of why the flooding in Nashville was such small potatoes, deploying the usual suspects: flyover state, too many bigger stories (the Times Square bomber and Gulf oil leak), the prompt response from the Federal government, even the lack of a right wing/left wing row to be created over a flood in a city in a red state since it affected mostly white, mostly middle class citizens.
And as can be expected, he totally missed a larger issue and an opportunity to discuss it.
Admittedly, the bombing attempt in tourist-rich Times Square and the millions of gallons of oil infiltrating the reef systems and shores of the Gulf coast will have a far greater impact on the rest of us than Keith Urban's flooded basement. Too, the number of dead (30) and the amount of monetary loss (estimates range around $5 billion, maximum) seem small compared to the fresh-in-our-memories Katrina (1,500, and $300 billion), much like the earthquake in Chile seemed small compared to Haiti.
None of this is the point, however. The point is, the news and the media that covers it is now a profit center. And therein lies the tale that Kurtz, in the service of his corporate overlords, refuses to cover. He bemoans the fact that his own paper, the Post, had to rely on Associated Press stringers to provide their news coverage. The New York Times sent a reporter, but never had the floods on the front page of the paper. Indeed, only CNN devoted much attention to the story, and that was when Anderson Cooper showed up 6 days after the flood. Even the obligatory telethon was held on only one network (CMT), where the Haiti telethon was wall-to-wall on cable.
For most outlets, it was a one-day story, with a few human interest follow ups.
Why? It costs money to send a reported down to a city and to dig up stories. And those stories have to sell ads. And let's face facts: pictures of white middle class Americans filing insurance claims and getting assistance from FEMA officials is not a particularly compelling story, even if the Grand Old Opry had ten feet of water in it and was in danger of actually skipping performances.
But there are stories to be told out of Nashville, stories that will take a little time and effort. Stories like, why did Nashville flood so badly? Was it the once-in-a-milennium rainfall into an area prone to some minor flooding or did the Army Corps of Engineers screw it up yet again? What went right in the response to the Nashville floods that we can learn from for future flood disasters that seem likely based on global warming?
Boring. I know. But important stories nonetheless and it would be nice if the media treated these stories like they were important, instead of relying on YouTube videos for a few laughs and a couple of shocking moments of heroism.
Not only won't they tell you these stories, they won't be honest about why they won't tell you these stories.