How mainstream reporters disgraced themselves during Hurricane Dorian
Hurricane Dorian has come and gone, leaving the U.S mainland largely unscathed.
With the storm over and the president summoning his own Twitter tempests to distract impressionable journos like a cowherd, Dorian will soon fade from the public's mind. Before it does, attention ought to be paid to the media's unbecoming behavior during the runup to the destructive gale.
Mike Allen, the jittery Axios reporter, made an offhand remark in the exordium of one of his morning newsletters, asking readers to keep potential storm victims in their thoughts. A nice enough sentiment, indeed. There was just one problem. "Fingers crossed for our friends and readers on the Southeast coast who're having their holiday plans spoiled by Dorian," Allen dashed off, perhaps unthinkingly.
Allen asks for well wishes for those whose summer holiday is disrupted. Not for Florida residents, not retirees, not schoolchildren — not even the tens of thousands of Eastern Europeans imported for the summer to work long hours in kitschy boardwalk shops. Allen's first thoughts are for those who, like him, decamp to the Sunshine State for a week or two of R and R.
Their precious summer break ruined, these sun-seeking elites may have to make do with staycations away from the sand and surf. How needlessly tragic!
Had things gone differently and Dorian exacted real damage upon southern and central Florida, Allen and his media cohorts would offer pro forma pleas for assistance. Their concern, however, would rest with the affluent of Palm Beach, not with the hard-up denizens of Eustis.
Bulverism can be a bad look, what with the Soviet connotations and all. And maybe I'm wrong to assume that Allen, a connected D.C. reporter, lacks sympathy for the hidebound locals of l'Amérique profonde. But it's hard to see things differently, given the behavior of journalists on Twitter. Every time someone posts a video of a natural disaster wreaking havoc around him, reporters hound his replies, requesting permission to use the footage.
The common exchange goes something like this:
"Wow, take a look at this tornado tearing the roofs off of trailer homes in Kansas City. This happened 30 seconds ago in front of me."
Reply: "Hi, I'm from the Washington Post. May I use this footage in my report? Thank you!"
Second reply: "Oh, and please stay safe! Did you see my original comment? I'd like to file the report ASAP. You own the video, right?"
So it goes, with numerous reporters from a sundry of publications all asking for the same video to take advantage of the algorithm-driven news cycle. We're to expect real human feeling out of these sensationalism-chasers?
One more instance of media malpractice to emphasize my point. Vox reporter Aaron Rupar thought he had sniffed out not so subtle racism displayed by President Trump regarding the then approaching storm. As Dorian approached, Trump pointed out that Puerto Rico received $92 billion in aid after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island two years ago. He then issued a warning to Floridians, urging them to heed "State and Federal instructions." All-around innocuous, no?
Not so, apparently. "[W]hen the hurricane is headed toward brown people vs. when it's headed toward white people," Rupar snarked, thinking he had made a clever and incisive point about the two tweets. The implication is that Trump warned white people of the hurricane and dickered about the cost of cleaning up the last one in a territory inhabited by non-whites. In Rupar's reductive formulation, Florida might as well look like Denmark demographically, while Puerto Rico is the Inca Empire.
Has Rupar really never heard of Miami? Florida is no white enclave, nor is Puerto Rico a racial monolith.
Now certain pundits can't get over the president's errant weatherly prognostication. A week later, we're still be reminded that the same forecasters who can't get day-to-day precipitation predictions right disagreed with Trump's suggestion that Alabama lay in Dorian's potential path. The only question that matters: Who honestly cares at this point? Steamed journalists with petty grievances, that's who.
I was wrong that Dorian did little damage to the U.S. The media somehow managed to lower its already debased reputation during the storm, much like Wilde's titular character. Too bad there's no insurance company or federal agency to clean up the press's self-destructive behavior.