Thursday, May 6, 2010

Spin, Baby, Spin.

Turn off your television. Right now. I mean it, turn it off. There’s nothing of value there for you, at least not news-wise.
I usually don’t get this irate at the local news stations until June 1, when hurricane season opens and the weather terrorists masquerading as news people turn every gusty day into a dark windy omen of the next apocalypse. With the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, though, Christmas came early for the media this year. Tourists are canceling their trips and the coastal economy, still pasty and malnourished from an excessively bitter winter, is steeling itself for an even more barren summer.
If I were to point fingers, I’d point first at the “Drill, Baby, Drill” morons who bought the line that drilling was safe with very little risk. Next, I’d love to blame British Petroleum, I really would. More than that, I think we should tar and feather the politicians who allowed drilling with oil from the spill and feathers from any bird affected by it.
But the biggest criminal of all is the media. Even though not one drop of oil has hit Florida shores—or, at press time, any coastal shore—people are canceling reservations and changing plans and refusing to eat seafood. That’s because the fourth estate, charged with the complex goal of reporting news and events accurately and fairly, apparently sees that goal as an opinion to be ignored if there’s money to be made.
Look, I don’t think we should drill; the risks outweigh the benefits. I understand how very strong the compulsion must be to point out every negative possibility so that no one will dare utter support of drilling.
But I also understand that there’s a difference between talking about what could happen which, by the way, isn’t actually news but speculation, and reporting on actual events. The media, in our own twisted, passionate attempt to remind the world why drilling is a bad idea, has sensationalized the disaster, and in doing so is about to decimate the tourist trade along the beaches. Beaches that, by the way, are still white and beautiful.
If you want to know what’s going on with the oil in the Gulf, please don’t rely on your television set. For that matter, don’t rely on any type of news media, and that includes the Gabber. We are not scientists. I don’t know about the folks at Fox, but my degree is in broadcast journalism, not marine biology or minerals management. I’m about as qualified to predict the oil’s path as the guy drinking at On The Rocks at 8 in the morning.
Wait just a minute, I can hear you say. Are you telling us not to believe what’s on television and in the paper? Absolutely. Don’t believe one single word. News is a business, and don’t you forget it. Oil that doesn’t hurt cute little birds and kill the fish that those adorable dolphin love to eat? Well, that doesn’t sell airtime. Oily birds and black beaches, now, that sells advertising.
I’m not saying don’t prepare for the worst, and if the oil reaches our shores I will certainly go wash birds or drop off gallons of Dawn dishwashing detergent or whatever the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary asks of me. But I’ve looked at the science, and while I’m no scientist, even I can tell that, as an industry, we’re making stuff up to keep you watching and reading.
I guess you can’t blame us, really. We haven’t had a decent disaster since Katrina. It gets boring, reporting on run-of-the-mill murders and carjacking. This oil thing certainly spices up our days.
WTVT, the local affiliate news station of the ever-respected Fox, ran a story about how the spill was affecting fishermen. They interviewed one captain who said the spill hadn’t impacted his business but all the media coverage was scaring it away. That story segued into another about the oil and how it might hit our beaches. While the news anchors didn’t actually say this, I turned off the set also expecting a plague of locusts and death of our firstborns.
I don’t expect you to believe me when I say we’re not to be trusted. My entire point is that you shouldn’t believe me. I implore you instead to check things out for yourselves. There are two web sites with projections and advisories from scientists whose qualifications surpass that of “looks good on camera”: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).
NOAA’s Incident News and main web sites have valuable information and the FDEP has a section on the Deepwater Horizon, the vessel at the center of this debacle. On that page you can download the oil’s projected trajectory. These links, listed at the end of the column and on the Gabber’s Facebook page, are the same ones the media goes to for information.
What’s that? You say you can’t really see much of Florida on the maps showing where the oil might go? Well, don’t take it as sign that you shouldn’t prepare.
Take it as a sign to turn off your television.

IncidentNews.gov/incident/8220
NOAA.gov
www.dep.state.fl/deepwaterhorizon

1 comment:

  1. USGS has some good stuff too...

    ReplyDelete