The other day I watched a little bit of MSNBC as they covered the crisis in Japan. I was shocked, not by the crisis itself, which is heartbreaking, but by the tone of the coverage. It was as if the network was operating in ALL CAPS mode. Multiple exclamation points, covering one particular aspect—the nuclear accident at Fukushima—while all but glossing over the very real disaster which has already claimed thousands of lives and cost unprecedented damage.
I'm not the only one who's noticed the unbalanced coverage the Western media has given to the disaster in Japan. Mariko Sanchanta writes in WSJ Online:
As Japan's nuclear crisis deepens, a gulf has developed in the way in which the foreign and Japanese media are covering the unfolding drama.
The disparity has led to a stark difference in public perceptions of the gravity of the situation: Many Japanese are going about their daily lives and routines as normal. In sharp contrast, many foreigners have left after being deluged with phone calls from relatives pleading them to leave Japan after watching and reading media reports in their home country.
There's even a leaderboard for awful coverage of the Japan quake: The Journalist Wall of Shame. As expected, British tabloids including the Sun and The Telegraph are some of the worst offenders. But American network CNN isn't any better, warning viewers that "radiation could reach US by Friday", needlessly alarming west coast residents and spiking sales of potassium iodide tablets.
The Telegraph screamed "Just 48 hours to avoid "another Chernobyl" even though experts have agreed that the accident not only isn't likely to be as bad as Chernobyl, but even Chernobyl wasn't as bad as Chernobyl.
The Sun interviewed a terrified British expat, trapped and starving in Tokyo, one who obviously doesn't get out enough, and probably didn't pass her science GCSE.
I won't bother with the Daily Mail, one of the most reprehensible newspapers in the UK. They rate a 10 on the Wall of Shame, along with Germany's Welt Online, which carefully chose the term "Kamikaze" to describe the pilots of the helicopters dousing the reactors in Japan. Their reporters—shall we call them kamikaze journalists?—probably got a bigger dose of radiation flying across two oceans than did the helicopter pilots who dumped water on the reactors.
This is in contrast to the brave journalists whom I've praised more than once in recent weeks as they covered the revolutions in the Middle East and Africa, risking their lives, and even losing their lives, to bring the world's attention to the struggle for freedom taking place against repressive regimes.
I guess all the responsible journalists, like Nick Kristoff, are still covering the revolutions, and the second string got sent to Japan. Too bad. We could use more balanced reporting and fewer exclamation points.
I feel bad for the Japanese people. First they have a once-every-1000-years-earthquake, which they withstood remarkably well. Then a tsunami that breached sea walls designed to cover once-in-a-100-year tsunamis, which killed thousands and left hundreds of thousands without homes. Then a nuclear accident, which may or may not kill anyone. Now they have the Western media using the crisis as a way to sell papers/entertain viewers.
Yet they go about their daily lives.
I'm impressed. Awed. Even tempted to use multiple exclamation points. But that won't get me interviewed on MSNBC, will it?