Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene and the Media Leave Millions of Minds Devastated and in Ruins

As of the time this blog was written, Irene will have caused approximately 25 deaths (Friday to Monday).  With no disrespect to those lost, we really dodged a bullet, didn’t we?  After all, Piers Morgan on CNN on Friday night said that 65 million people were threatened or in danger. 

Of course, he used a statistic that referenced the number of people on the eastern seaboard who would be touched even by the slightest rain or wind and broadened it to suggest that each one of them was “at risk or threatened”.

Meanwhile in NYC, local TV stations on Saturday were showing what the flooding of a category 3 hurricane will (not might) look like in NYC (with much of lower Manhattan under 12 feet of water), even though by then, anyone who could read knew that the storm would be a low category 1 or a high tropical storm.  Even on Sunday morning when the storm had passed, local stations, instead of showing that the flooding did not reach the panic levels that had been promoted, focused on “what could have happened if NYC had had a category 3 storm”. 

The web is filled with videos and images of reporters who, while claiming that they could hardly stand because of the fierce wind gusts, were oblivious to people casually strolling, jogging, riding bicycles, texting, etc. in the background.

Yes … flooding did happen.  When we build dwellings on sand spits, river banks, beach fronts and flood plains, this is inevitable.

This is not a shocking revelation that should occupy the media.  One reporter on a small island in Queens, NY, waited for the flood waters to arrive while at one point admitting that the island actually floods twice a month year-round during new moon and full moon tides.  So why should a little extra water be news there?

There is such a thing as preparedness.

To be paralyzed by hyperbole is quite another thing.

And this is the great disservice that modern media provides to us.

The one thing the media did little of was to help people with actual preparedness.  Yes, they occasionally carried a valuable, important statement from a mayor, governor or emergency preparedness group.  Years ago, normal programming would have been interrupted with these important announcements.

But now for the most part, they fill the “airwaves” with all the reasons why we should be VERY afraid without REALLY informing us as to the best way to protect ourselves.

Was the amount and type of coverage appropriate for the risk?

Consider these numbers:

25 people died from Hurricane Irene (at the time of this writing) over the four day period.

During that same time period (4 days, numbers are approximations):

1. 116,000 children under the age of 5 died worldwide from tainted water (source: WHO).

2. 400 US citizens committed suicide (source: CDC).

3. 448 US citizens died in vehicle accidents (source: CDC)

4. Of the 448 citizens who died in those accidents, 164 of them died in accidents caused by drunk drivers (source: CDC).

This doesn’t include deaths from cancer, heart attack, stroke or other diseases.

I don’t recall getting breaking news regarding any of these other, more significant numbers.  I guess they just weren’t snazzy enough.

Sadly, while the hurricane deaths will mostly level off by now, the deaths noted above will continue to happen daily, all the while being mostly unreported.

When we stay glued to media that entertains and frightens rather than informs and teaches, we have a problem. 

The problem is that instead of helping us become more informed, more knowledgeable and more capable to do the right things when challenges are before us, we lose that opportunity amidst the cacophony of fear mongering as promoted by the media.

And someday, heaven forbid, if we should be in the middle of a REAL disaster where mass communication mechanisms die and we don’t have the opportunity to be “entertained” by Anderson Cooper and others, we may find ourselves in real trouble.

And that won’t be their fault.

It will be ours.

In service and servanthood,


PS When I think about some of the statistics I cited, something intriguing comes to mind.  We have the technology to correct the tainted water problem but don’t have the will or interest to implement it.  Suicide prevention will produce better results when we work harder at reducing the stigma associated with mental illness (we have come far but have far to go).  Most accidents are caused by driver error of some type.  There is technology that can sharply reduce the ability for an intoxicated driver to drive a vehicle.  Heart attack, stroke and many cancers have significant lifestyle causes, where we can make better choices to avoid these diseases but we choose not to.

Perhaps, maybe, this is why we don’t report these numbers, since to do so reminds us that we can do more to prevent them.  Who likes to be reminded of responsibility put before us but not embraced?

Meanwhile, Mother Nature will always take some lives every year.  To report such events allows us to wonder and be saddened about the loss while not feeling guilty that “we could have done more”.

Victimhood is a cloak more easily worn than the cloak of responsibility and accountability.

What do you think?

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