Hurricanes, (Fake) News, and Precision

Frequently, the news occupies an unusual position where they can’t do anything right. Various individuals and institutions or positions will be upset and believe they have been misrepresented or mistreated no matter what journalists (or their producers) do.  

Since Kellyanne single-handedly caused “fake news” to enter everyday popular discourse, people jump to declare that which they do not agree or do not understand “fake news.” News, more than before, has been politicized, especially since–also thanks to Kellyanne–such “(fake?) news” can legitimately present “alternative facts.”

It gets confusing and complex pretty quick! 

The point I want to mainly address here is that the news does have a very real problem–at times–when it comes to accurately providing full and relevant information. We can respect media, support the press, and decry “fake news” and “alternative facts,” while also recognizing that the media should do better.


During Hurricane Harvey, the Houston media constantly said or implied that all of Houston was under water and was basically destroyed. The national media made it appear that the entire coastal region was completely destroyed and fully under dangerous flood waters.

As conditions started to improve, the Houston media constantly said that Lake Jackson and other areas in Brazoria County were completely flooded and repeatedly issued false or misleading evacuation orders.

Covering live events is difficult, for sure.

And, as I have written about many times in different articles, determining the scope and structure of any given narrative presents challenges.

For example, for purposes of communicating with millions of people in Houston, saying “all of Lake Jackson is flooding and is under mandatory evacuation orders” is perhaps accurate per se and relevant per se but presents problems when people in Lake Jackson say 90% of the town is just fine and under no threat. But is problematic when there are specific sections in Lake Jackson–not receiving attention–that are deadly or at least, dangerous. 

Throughout the storm, the media has represented the event and consequences as being worse than reality.

So while things in Lake Jackson have been fine and while roughly 70 percent of my students had no personal losses in the storm, the media has suggested again and again that all of Houston had major losses.

Of course, sadly, people died, people lost home, people lost cars, etc. People have suffered in the storm, but as I have written about before, this suffering was in very specific parts of a tremendously large city. This suffering needs coverage. The suffering in non-White and non-wealthy areas needs coverage the most but has not received any.

And the news never really explained that Houston roads are designed to flood in emergencies to save homes, schools, and hospitals.

And the television news never discussed how such floods could be avoided in the future.

Part of the media’s lose-lose situation is that they depend on ratings and money. They have to keep people scared but not too scared. They have too keep people uncomfortable but not so uncomfortable seeing the extremes of poverty and non-White people en masse that they change the channel. They can’t present solutions (that would require tax money) without people accusing them of being communist and thieves and also changing the channel. 

Cries of “fake news” could be curtailed greatly with greater ease if the media could constantly be more precise and more comprehensive in its coverage.

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda 

Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives


2 replies

  1. In fairness to some media, ‘CBS This Morning’ did mention that a large part of Houston was under water because the city has poor environmental and zoning laws. CBS said that they allowed development on wetlands. An ecologist (can’t remember where from but it was nearby, but not Houston) said that wetlands act as sponges to soak up the water, but with roads, houses, and businesses, along with their asphalt pavings, that area cannot soak up the excess rainwater anymore. CBS also said that the dams and reservoirs were releasing water as they filled up to protect the walls of dams and reservoirs, which, if they burst would cause themselves damage, but that led unfortunately to too much water on streets downstream. Would it have been better not to release the water? Who knows? But this information told me that Houston had started to address its need to work with nature, some time ago. But I never heard of any systematic changes Houston had done. Your statement about designing the streets to carry excess water is the first I heard of it expressed this way. Clearly CBS left out information, but found relevant information to insert there.

    But lets face facts: most of Texas does this. When I first moved here, I wondered why there were no storm drains. I just thought that the city was too cheap to do the right thing. Rainstorms are particularly terrible for the pedestrian, making a lot of the city streets impossible to cross. Then I heard that they could not afford the constant maintenance of such drains to prevent clogging. Knowing what happens here in the windy dust storms, I can imagine. However, the East coast has to deal with falling leaves, so it doesn’t matter where you live, storm drains will clog. Take also into account, the cities that I have seen in Texas do absolutely nothing to pave sidewalks or maintain the few paved ones. I feel for those with wheelchairs. It is a very rough and narrow ride for them.

    You are so right about the footage ignoring poorer parts of Houston. Of course, they never said anything about exactly where the scenes were filmed, north, south, east, west or if coastal or not. The viewer had to assume that all scenes were coastal. But again, I saw footage from fairly well-off neighborhoods and clearly very damaged, more crowded areas of the city. One thing I did notice though was that the well-off neighborhoods were where the cameras chose to emphasize the loss of property values. The cameras focused on the people hurt and rescued in poorer, more crowded neighborhoods. It is possible that the more well-off neighborhoods had less damage, or that most of the people there had evacuated by the time the cameras arrived. In that way the news media were compromising, emphasizing both damage to property values and people, and demonstrating what it meant to both rich (property) and poor (people) without emphasizing that it meant different things to different socioeconomic levels. Granted, the coverage tends to be predictable and lacking any real understanding of the area it is supposed to inform us about. They are clearly following the same recipe for coverage everywhere.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for all of your thoughts here!

      Glad to know that CBS brought some attention to these – there have been a small handful of non-mainstream articles bringing attention to these issues too in the last day or two. I think a lot of us noticed that the coverage seemed to be skipping representations and voices of those really, really hurt by the storm – the people who won’t be able to afford a rebuilding process.

      For several days, the local news channels had 24/7 live coverage, and I saw a good bit of it. It is interesting how they frame issues. Even though I am familiar with more and more of the Houston area, there were for sure many times when they didn’t exactly make it clear where they were, but from what I know of the area, I know where they weren’t.

      I do wish all of our cities would invest in better technology for such extreme weather events. But people are just too stubborn!

      As far as how Houston was built, I’ve seen many things about that with many different positions, so I’m not sure what to think. I do know Houston has grown really fast, with little planning. AND that the entire area was a swamp before industrialization slowly transformed it.

      On a slightly different topic, I’ve done some research looking at where various chain stores and restaurants are and aren’t in Houston. They generally don’t exist east of I-45- the poorer and non-White area. It’s amazing looking at the contrasts.

      Have a good evening!

      Liked by 1 person

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