We need a Fifth Estate

Sky-is-falling-2 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”
Ron: “And…?”
Rebecca: “I felt something.”
Ron: “The quake.”
Rebecca: “Yes.”
Ron: “Were you scared?”
Rebecca: “No.”
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!

7 thoughts on “We need a Fifth Estate

  1. Thanks PEngelinNYC. I happened to watch the local CBS weather forecast last night. The weatherman’s negative non-verbals were palpable when he said it was unlikely the storm would even reach category one strength by the time it reached New York. But, he quickly composed himself and, once again, went for the jugular by adding, “But, that doesn’t mean there won’t be high winds, downed power lines and flooding. All of which could spell total disaster for our region.” Gimme a break!

  2. Of course it’s legitimate that the media has to put a lot of coverage into Irene. It’s of critical importance. But there’s a line between news coverage and spreading hype and false fear. That line is being crossed. It’s what RepMan is objecting to and I agree with him. The coverage of the earthquake in NYC was just one shameful example.
    I also think this kind of media coverage partially contributes to how the United States is turning from a self-determined nation into a bunch of thumb-sucking worriers, or “sheeple” as some like to call us.
    One final thing, Bubbles. New York has had PLENTY of experience with hurricanes. In my lifetime, there was Bob (1971) and Gloria (1985) which killed 11 people. It hit Brooklyn/Queens and Long Island’s south shore (my homeland) very hard. But after surveying the damage, my mother said it was nothing compared to 1938’s infamous Category 2 hurricane that killed 600 people along the Atlantic Coast, especially Long Island, Connecticut and Rhode Island. OK, that one’s before our lifetimes but we’ve been through it.

  3. Ah, but what you’re missing, Bubbles, is the editorializing the media does. They aren’t satisfied with reporting the facts. They also endlessly speculate various doom and gloom scenarios (as the anchor did when she suggested that some Manhattan buildings that had already been weakened by the earthquake might topple over from the force of a category three hurricane). That’s irresponsible. Add the 24×7, non-stop nature of the hype and you’ve got all the ingredients for media-generated mass hysteria.

  4. I go with the Goose, Rep. There is a difference between whipping people into a frenzy and reporting the top story. Weather is the one commonality we all share and right now Irene is big news. It’s important that people have some understand the potential severity of damage and disaster related situations (power loss, water cut-off) that we might have to deal with. And in our case (our, being NY) we have NO hurricane experience. And I don’t think that if Irene misses us that you can accuse the press of misleading reporting. Their advice to be prepared is wise, and as an experienced outdoors man you of all people understand the power of mother nature and the necessity of being prepared for the worst.

  5. Well said, Goose. But, there’s fine line between reporting and hyping. Take the upcoming hurricane. Please! This morning, anchors were suggesting people begin stocking up on basic essentials, buying extra batteries, etc. Now, for a cash-strapped family lived from paycheck to paycheck, that means spending money they don’t have. So, what if the hurricane ends up turning out to sea and missing us entirely? That’s the kind of irresponsible hype that we should be wary of.

  6. You are right Goose of course, but this is why I will follow the BBC instead of American news.
    Rep – Happy Anniversary to Peppercom! Have a great family trip to all.

  7. I work for the media monster you speak of and we LIVE for these kinds of stories. Every lead in about the earthquake started with ‘a mere month away from the 10th anniversary of 9/11 leaves new yorkers feeling vulnerable and afraid. Today’s earthquake did nothing to alleviate those fears…’
    Its just the business we are in. Obviously we are going to make a big deal out of the earthquake because it new York hasn’t had one in over 100 years. And if every other network carries it then WE look stupid for not covering it. I agree we talk about it too much And whip people into a frenzy, especially with the upcoming hurricane. But that shouldn’t be a surprise to you. When we have a story that affects a large amount of people our ratings go up. No ifs ands or buts about it. The media will ALWAYS be like this and there is no point in complaining about it. The news is a business just like PR and we need to make money. If we don’t report
    On it we lose viewers.