Tuesday, July 29, 2008


What the hell is up with the news media these days? They're like a bunch of manic chickens running around with their heads cut off. Nothing but a lot of screaming hysterics.

Today there was an earthquake in Los Angeles. It measured 5.4 on the Richter Scale. That's considered a "moderate" quake. I've been through worse myself - when I lived in San Francisco, there was an earthquake measuring 5.8 centered right in the middle of the bay. Honestly, it wasn't even bad enough to scare me that much - my stepmother kept yelling at me to get under a doorway and I remember standing at the bottom of the stairs saying "what?" Before I knew it, it was over. There was no damage and there were no injuries.

Both CNN and MSNBC had "Breaking News" alerts about today's earthquake, devoting their entire front page to the story for hours, and of course that bastion of journalistic integrity Matt Drudge still has about six stories linked at the top of his web site, one of which is headlined "L.A.'s biggest quake in 15 years!" (Of course, the headline on the linked story itself is "Jaded Californians see quakes as part of life", which I guess was not nearly dramatic enough for Drudge.) The AFP declared in their headline that Los Angeles had "dodged a bullet", whatever that means. (Presumably the earthquake shot at them and missed? But wouldn't it have hit somewhere else then?) Reuters similarly called L.A. "lucky".

It couldn't have been that this was just one of the approximately 1,300 earthquakes around the world each year in the 5-6 range on the Richter Scale. And this was on the lower end of that range.

The Richter Scale is logarithmic, meaning each point on the scale is an order of magnitude stronger. A 6.4 earthquake is ten times stronger than a 5.4, and releases 31 times more energy. Don't make the mistake of looking at the numbers and saying "oh, 5.4 is pretty close to 6" - it doesn't work that way. Hell, we've had earthquakes that strong in New York City! Even the most dire-sounding expert that CNN could dig up would only proclaim that this quake was somewhere "between small and moderate". CNN did their best to get her to admit that it was a "precursor to a larger quake", but all she'd say is that after 24 hours, there's only a 1% chance of anything larger happening.

There are two things at work here: the race to get eyeballs, ratings and pageviews in a news environment made more competitive by the speed of the internet, and this ridiculous and annoying culture of fear that has taken hold since 9/11. I'll be posting my own thoughts on 9/11 when the date comes around again - I was here, so it pisses me off when people in Montana or Idaho or Iowa or wherever try to use it to justify their crazy paranoia - but the point is, fear is now a business. And it's the business the modern news media thinks it's in.

Let's just hope that enough people can see through the bullshit.

No comments:

Post a Comment

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP