Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Intractable Triviality of the Media

A minor pier-like extension north of the Boardwalk.
Having spent 40-plus years in the major media, I think I can with some authority state that I am frequently astonished by the regular stupidity of some elements of that media, not to mention the occasional stupidity of other elements.
That's a theme I think I'll stay with in this column for a while.

Today's example:

The media proclivity to constantly cite and amplify false reporting ("Al Gore claims he invented the Internet!") in subsequent stories, long after the initial story has been debunked. Even if the subsequent reports do acknowledge somewhere along the line that the initial reports have been called into question, the initial reports still form the basis of the new reporting.

Case in point: Section of Atlantic City Boardwalk swept out to sea by hurricane.

Facts: During the hurricane, breathless television reporters on CNN and elsewhere, desperate for visuals and drama, got their hair on fire over a snippet of video taken by emergency helicopter, showing some storm damage to a small, wayward extension of the Atlantic City Boardwalk in the northern Inlet section of town where bay and sea meet (that's far from the familiar, wide, five-mile stretch of famous Boardwalk along the oceanfront). Anyone who knows anything about Atlantic City realized, seeing that video, that this was an inconsequential bit of damage (during an extremely consequential and devastating storm) to an inconsequential section of the boardwalk, and easily repaired with some wood and nails. Bang bang bang, all fixed.

Intractable stupidity: The official hurricane Sandy narrative now always includes an assertion that the Atlantic City Boardwalk sustained major damage. Ergo, no damage to Boardwalk now being evident, a great catastrophe has been overcome.

Evidence: From the increasingly inexplicable USA Today, today: "TV viewers during Superstorm Sandy saw portions of the Atlantic City Boardwalk engulfed by waves and swept out to sea. That's an image that the gambling-driven resort hopes to erase during the crucial holiday season. ..."

Reality: Viewers saw no such thing. They did not see waves sweeping an engulfed portion of the Boardwalk out to sea. They saw a snippet of video, and a still photo or two, showing damage to that small and forlorn section of the boardwalk, basically a long pier, where the waves had indeed intruded on their way to doing serious damage to nearby homes, destroying about a 50-foot section. Period. The actual Atlantic City Boardwalk sustained no significant damage.

The actual Atlantic City Boardwalk, undamaged.
And oh, by the way. The USA Today story is also an example of a journalistic practice I call "recipe writing."

That is, a reporter (or worse, editor) from Publiciation B sees a story in Publication A, and proceeds to "re-report" it, using Publication A as a recipe for the ingredients.

Like this column three weeks ago by Monica Yant Kinney in the Philadelphia Inquirer that appears to have been the recipe for the one in USA Today.

It's a cheesy practice, but not strictly unethical. Just cheesy.

A piece of information in the earlier Inky story (which seems to have been prompted by PR promotion from Atlantic City) that should have been kept in the recipe: "Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Sandy struck, 41 percent of Americans polled erroneously believed the Atlantic City Boardwalk had washed away; 21 percent had heard the Jersey Shore was still closed to travelers. ..."


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