Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Media Rant: More Nook-you-ler Fear

The constant drumbeat of network and cable news, ginning up fear about death from nuclear radiation in Japan, is becoming quite tiresome.

This morning, a CNN anchorette actually cited burgeoning sales of iodine pills in California as “evidence” that the government of Japan is not telling the truth about their nuke problems. The tortured illogic of that assertion is stunning, and would be funny if it wasn’t so profoundly stoopid.

Last night on the NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams devoted the first half of his broadcast to live reports from Japan, including a piece from Ann Curry strongly implying that the Japanese government was not only lying about the severity of the problems at the troubled nuke plant, but was deliberately lying to cover up the scary truth.

Buried about 20 minutes into the half-hour broadcast, Brian interviewed NBC’s Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, who said there is NO reason to panic; that people should NOT buy, much less consume iodine pills; and that perhaps we all ought to take a deep breath and calm down.

It appears the Japanese have more than they can handle in trying to put the genie back in the bottle, and have wisely asked for help. I am not minimizing the gravity of the situation. But most people know almost nothing about nuclear power and even less about radiation, and the news folks almost never put things into perspective for the average viewer or listener. If they knew how much radiation they were ingesting simply by eating a banana, they’d swear them off forever.

Part of it is the fault of education. I will never forget, no matter how badly I’m stricken by dementia in my later years, the assignment my daughter was given in a high school science class: “Make a collage about your feelings about nuclear energy.” Suffice it to say I had words with the teacher. This is the sort of stuff that passes for general science education these days, and why it’s so easy for the media to scare the hell out of so many people on topics involving nuclear energy.

Since Ms. Curry offered not one whit of support for her assertion about the Japanese government lying – citing no expert, no research, no hard facts, no science, no documentation of any sort – and did not label her assertion as her opinion – one is left to conclude that she’s not in the news business, but in the business of ginning up fear.

This crisis in Japan may well be the worst nuclear disaster of the 21st century, but the media are doing us no favors by whipping up baseless fears and acting like bloggers, rather than journalists.