Newsweek Offers Offensive Explanation For Why Media Ignored Nashville Flood

NewsBusters on Wednesday shared a truly heartbreaking video with its readers dealing with the Nashville flood that so many people in the nation hadn't heard about due to the media's focus on the Gulf oil spill and Faisal Shahzad.

News outlets are beginning to try to explain to their patrons why such a devastating event got so over-shadowed.

On Thursday, Newsweek's Andrew Romano offered his view on why this disaster was a tad swept under the rug.

Unfortunately, I think many people not only aren't going to buy his explanation, but will likely find it quite offensive:

First, the modern media may be more multifarious than ever, but they're also remarkably monomaniacal. In a climate where chatter is constant and ubiquitous, newsworthiness now seems to be determined less by what's most important than by what all those other media outlets are talking about the most. Sheer volume of coverage has become its own qualification for continued coverage. (Witness the Sandra Bullock-Jesse James saga.) In that sense, it's easy to see why the press can't seem to focus on more than one or two disasters at the same time. Everyone is talking about BP and Faisal Shahzad 24/7, the "thinking" goes. So there must not be anything else that's as important to talk about. It's a horrible feedback loop. 

Hmmm. The "Everyone Is Only Covering These Stories So We Must As Well" defense.

Anybody buying that?

After all, for any given news outlet, be it print or television, you could find TONS of coverage in the past week not dealing exclusively with the oil spill and Shahzad.  

So this certainly doesn't explain why possibly the biggest non-hurricane/non-earthquake natural disaster in American history got so little coverage.

But here's the REALLY offensive excuse:

[T]he "narrative" simply wasn't as strong. Because it continually needs to fill the airwaves and the Internet with new content, 1,440 minutes a day, the media can only trade on a story's novelty for a few hours, tops. It is new angles, new characters, and new chapters that keep a story alive for longer. The problem for Nashville was that both the gulf oil spill and the Times Square terror attempt are like the Russian novels of this 24/7 media culture, with all the plot twists and larger themes (energy, environment, terrorism, etc.) required to fuel the blogs and cable shows for weeks on end. What's more, both stories have political hooks, which provide our increasingly politicized press (MSNBC, FOX News, blogs) with grist for the kind of arguments that further extend a story's lifespan (Did Obama respond too slowly? Should we Mirandize terrorists?). The Nashville narrative wasn't compelling enough to break the cycle, so the MSM just continued to blather on about BP and Shahzad. 

So people drowning and losing everything they have in an epic flood wasn't a strong enough narrative? It didn't have enough plot twists and turns? 

So what was the "narrative" and the "political hook" of the media's months long focus after Hurricane Katrina? What were the compelling plot twists and turns?

In the end, Katrina's narrative began almost immediately and continued until President Bush was made a lame duck less than a year into his second term: it was all his fault!

But when a flood happens in a highly-populated part of the nation's south, and a Democrat President is slow to respond, that doesn't fit the narrative for the press to be giving the coverage the story deserves?

There wasn't a strong enough "political hook" here? 

If the media need such a narrative for a story to be newsworthy -- regardless of how offensive that seems! -- maybe they could have focused on the Administration possibly being unable to deal with three crises at the same time.

This seems particularly obvious given how the press FINALLY began reporting last Saturday on how slowly the White House responded to the oil spill. As that's when the torrential rains began to hit Nashville, the media could have had a field day with how the Obama administration was slow on the uptake with that disaster as well.

Seems almost a slam-dunk, doesn't it?

Or how about this for a narrative: Tennessee was one of the few states Obama didn't win in November 2008.

As part of the media narrative concerning Bush and Katrina was that he was racist -- or, at the very least, that race played a factor in the slow response -- couldn't the press have played up the "Obama Lost Tennessee" angle concerning why the White House didn't declare a state of emergency there until May 4 days after the floods began?

Readers are advised that this "narrative" suggestion is by no means an accusation on my part that McCain's victory in Tennessee had anything to do with Obama's slow response to the Nashville floods.

Instead, as media rarely need plausibility for their conspiracy theories, this would have been just as feasible a narrative as Bush's response to Katrina involving race.

In the end, Romano did seem to apologize for the media's lack of flood coverage, but I highly doubt the good people of Tennessee will take much solace in it. 

As for the press needing a narrative to cover a story of this magnitude - shame on them if journalism has sunk to such a level. 

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.