Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Media incompetence
from the mind of  Daredemo.

Now admittedly this is a more or less local news issue, and doesn't technically have anything to do with politics, but I think this is relevant as some sort of illustration why many people now turn to Dan Rather's men in pajamas, who tend to be experts in their respective fields (in his case typography), for information instead of what used to be 'orthodox' media.

I (and probably many other viewers of Northwest Cable News) observed a very strange exchange at the end of this morning's Mt St Helens press conference, announcing the Mt. St. Helens alert level being reduced to level 2 ("clock's ticking"), down from level 3 ("she's gonna blow!"). As the conference ended and was breaking up, the presiding USGS geologist (whose name I unfortunately forget) backed a short distance from the microphone, and was greeted by a reporter who commented that she had just arrived, and "missed the whole thing". (Her affiliation is unknown -- actually NWCN has been doing a reasonable job covering the mountain, so she's probably not affiliated with them) The geologist smiled, and made some comment like "sorry to hear that, its been quite a show". She then began to berate him because she was under the impression that the mountain was going to erupt at any time, and how dare he change that. To his credit the geologist politely mentioned that in fact the mountain had erupted several times in the past few days, and they do still expect it to erupt more in the coming weeks if not months. The screen went black just before she could stomp her feet with the tearful exclamation "Daddy, make it do it again!".

Now I don't think I need to comment on why her attitude was completely silly, everyone with even a cursory understanding of oh, I don't know, life in general, knows that volcanoes erupt on their own timescale, and not when its convenient for the press. What Mt. St. Helens seems to be doing now actually looks consistent with events leading up to past eruptions in that there often have been periods of steam & small ash bursts interspersed with periods when the mountain didn't seem to be doing a whole lot at all. But the issue here isn't what the mountain is doing or not doing, but why should such an ignorant individual be dispatched to cover this sort of news? Fact is, those of us in science (as my fellow conspirators here can attest) see the press behaving stupidly when covering science events all the time. This week I've seen Geraldo Rivera completely "mis-remember" the events of May 18 1980 that he claims to have witnessed, and if I had a dollar for every time I've seen a reporter talk about "magna" (that's not a typo, nor a geological anything) erupting from the mountain I'd be quite rich.

I've studied science for most of my life now, and throughout that time have seen the press continually demonstrate an utter lack of any understanding when attempting to report it. I have always wondered whether their reporting of other topics that I may not necessarily be familiar with shows the same level of incompetence. Since September 11, I, probably like most people, became much more engaged following world events, and quickly found that the media continually mis-quotes speeches and misrepresents documents. I now try to use CSPAN and original documents as much as possible to understand the news. I frequently look at the reporting coming from Iraqi bloggers, several of which are linked on this page, and see a completely different picture as is reported by the residents of the Al Rashid hotel's bar. We often talk of media bias, and how there's some diabolical conspiracy between the left and the media, but I think fundamentally the answer here is that the members of the media are simply lazy and really are just as dumb as rocks. And as we all know, if you don't pay attention or think too carefully, you'll more than likely gravitate to the left politically.

OK, good -- now I've turned a volcanic eruption into a political issue, so will therefore yield the soapbox. Enjoy.

2 Comments:

Blogger Armando said...

A very interesting post, and, in fact, a very interesting point regarding the media. At one time, I worked as a reporter. It can go to your head, the idea that you have to pry secrets from everyone and treat every story like "all the president's men". And is always worse with women.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Zeke_Wilkins said...

All this activity at Mt. St. Helens means that ME=MC^2's hollowed-out volcano lair is almost complete...

Seriously though, thank goodness for CSPAN. I've relied on them for the RNC coverage and well as the debate coverage. I used to think Brokaw, Jennings and Rather were annoying with their commentary; now that I know how hollow and crooked they are I find them apalling. If you were to tell me just a year or two ago that I'd end up watching CSPAN I would have laughed at you and called you expletives. Now I wouldn't have it any other way.

3:07 PM  

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