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.

Case-in-point:

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