This country sorely needs a Fifth Estate to police the Fourth. Whether it's new, sports, entertainment or, as is the case this week, weather, the media beast increasingly opts for hyperbole and superlatives over objectivity and balance.
Take local New York media. Please. They're in seventh heaven at the moment; basking in the afterglow of a 5.9 magnitude earthquake and bracing for the approach of a category three hurricane.
Not content to report mere facts, local news and weather reporters have been routinely going for the jugular.
Consider this near verbatim conversation I watched live on one of the local channels:
Anchor: "To repeat, New York has just been hit by a 5.9 magnitude earthquake whose center was in Falls Church, Virginia. Ron Mieth is at the corner of 42nd and Third right now. Ron?”
Ron: "Thanks Tim. I'm with Rebecca LargeCalves, who has an amazing story to share. Rebecca, where were you when the quake hit?”
Rebecca: “Getting out of a cab.”
Ron: “Tell us what happened.”
Rebecca: “I got out of the cab”
Rebecca: “I felt something.”
Ron: “The quake.”
Ron: “Were you scared?”
Ron: “Did you think to yourself, uh oh, another 9/11?”
Rebecca: “No, but the cabbie said something like that.”
Ron: “There you have it, Tim. More than one New Yorker wondering if today's quake was the start of yet another 9/11 attack. Now back to you in the studio.”
Tim: “Wow. And, of course the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is just days away. Well, stay safe Ron.”
Then, this morning there was this irresponsible banter on a local good morning show:
Anchor: “Now here's meteorologist Hiawatha Habitat with news of what appears to be New York's second major wake-up call from Mother Nature in less than a week. Hiawatha?”
Hiawatha: “That's right, Walter. We have a category three hurricane that, if it stays on course, will slam into New York beaches sometime early Sunday morning.”
Anchor: “Good lord. Considering Manhattan is at sea level, are we looking at another potential Katrina situation here, Hiawatha?”
Hiawatha: “Walter, meteorologists are trained to never say never.”
Anchor: “Understood. City building officials have to be losing sleep worrying how well our earthquake-weakened structures will withstand this new threat. Thanks Hiawatha and please keep us posted on this developing mega threat!”
This sort of fear mongering drives ratings. And the corporations who own nearly all the major media outlets are driven by the bottom line. As a result, superlatives and hyperbole increasingly rule the airwaves.
We need a Fifth Estate to hold the Fourth one accountable. But, who does it and how? And, how do we avoid a State-controlled media if we do have another entity step in? I'd ask more unanswerable questions, but I think I just spied a tornado over Fort Lee bearing down on 470 Park Avenue South. I can't wait to hear the hype on this one!