Yesterday the Pew Research Center released data on the news coverage of Typhoon Haiyan — a disaster that has killed at least 4,000 people — and the bungled Obamacare website roll-out. Comparing 20 hours of news coverage over four major U.S. channels, they found dramatic differences. The data below shows the hours and minutes spent on each topic at each channel (red = Obamacare, yellow = the typhoon).
First, the two partisan channels (Fox News and MSNBC) gave more time to Obamacare than the typhoon. On MSNBC, there was four times as much coverage of Obamacare. On Fox, there as a stunning 80 times as much coverage. Al Jazeera America and CNN spent significantly more time on the typhoon, likely reflecting their more global focus and less of an ideological mission.
The channels also differed in how much time they spent on facts/reporting versus opinion/commentary. Check it out:
While most all of us sometimes lazily refer to “the media” as if it’s a homogeneous thing, it’s important to remember that our perceptions of reality are strongly shaped by which media we consume.
Like many people, I’ve been following news about the crash landing in San Francisco. It’s a frightening reminder of the risks that come with air travel, but an uplifting one thanks to the small number of casualties. The Mayor of San Francisco was quoted saying: “We’re lucky we have this many survivors.” And the Chief of the San Francisco Fire Department said that it was “nothing short of a miracle…” At CNN, after mentioning the two confirmed fatalities, the reporter writes, “Somehow, 305 others survived.” Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, wrote that it was a “serious moment to give thanks.” But to whom?
There’s a kind of person who is trained to maximize survival in the case of a plane crash: the flight attendant. Airlines don’t advertise the intense training their flight attendants receive because it reminds potential passengers that air travel is risky. As a result, most people seriously underestimate the skills flight attendants bring on board and the dedication they have to the safety of their passengers.
Flight attendants have to learn hundreds of regulations and know the safety features of all of the aircraft in their airline’s fleet. They must know how to evacuate the plane on land or sea within 90 seconds; fight fires 35,000 feet in the air; keep a heart attack or stroke victim alive; calm an anxious, aggressive, or mentally ill passenger; respond to hijackings and terrorist attacks; and ensure group survival in the jungle, sea, desert, or arctic.
It isn’t just book learning; they train in “live fire pits” and “ditching pools.”As one flight attendant once said:
I don’t think of myself as a sex symbol or a servant. I think of myself as somebody who knows how to open the door of a 747 in the dark, upside down and in the water (source).
This is why I’m surprised to see almost no discussion of the flight attendants’ role in this “miracle.” Consider the top five news stories on Google at the time I’m writing: CNN, Fox, CBS, the Chicago Tribune, and USA Today. These articles use passive language to describe the evacuation: ”slides had deployed”; all passengers “managed to get off.” When the cabin crew are mentioned, they appear alongside and equivalent to the passengers: the crash forced “dozens of frightened passengers and crew to scamper from the heavily damaged aircraft”; ”passengers and crew were being treated” at local hospitals.
Only one of these five stories, at Fox, acknowledges that the 16 cabin crew members worked through the crash and its aftermath. The story mentions that, while passengers who could were fleeing the plane, crew remained behind to help people who were trapped, slashing seat belts with knives supplied by police officers on the ground. The plane was going up in flames; they risked their lives to save others.
I don’t know what the flight attendants on this plane did or didn’t do to minimize injuries or save lives, but I would like to know. Instead, they are invisible in these news stories as workers, allowing readers and future passengers to remain ignorant of the skills and dedication they bring to their work.
We all-too-often take for granted that photographs like this one, revealing the impact of an oil pipeline leak on Mayflower, Arkansas, will be able to inform us about the state of the world. In fact, such images are taken by actual human photojournalists whose rights of access are protected by the First Amendment establishing the freedom of the press.
This is a real thorn in the side of both corporations and governments that might prefer to control media’s access to embarrassing or illegal activities. So, often they try to strong arm journalists, co-opt local officials, or pass (likely illegal) legislation designed to protect them from the free press’ gaze. Here are two current examples.
First, Mother Jonesreports that Exxon officials are making efforts to limit reporter access to the oil pipeline leak in Mayflower, Arkansas. This is happening in at least two ways. First, Exxon representatives and local law enforcement are blocking journalists from accessing the spill site, threatening ”arrest for criminal trespass.” Second, BoingBoing reports that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has instituted a temporary “no-fly zone” in the area of the spill. Here’s a screenshot from the FAA’s website:
Second, in the last two years Americans have shuddered in response to the release of undercover video revealing the abuse of animals on industrialfarms and the torture of Tennessee Walking horses. These have resulted in convictions, but they’ve also raised the hackles of the agricultural industry. The New York Timesreports that, in an effort to limit their risk, they’ve sponsored bills (proposed or enacted in about a dozen state legislatures) making it illegal to videotape animals on their property without their permission and requiring all prospective employees to reveal associations with animal rights groups.
These examples remind us how important it is that journalists have the freedom to do their job. They also remind us that we must vigilantly protect that freedom. Corporations, and governments too, have an incentive to limit the freedom of the press. These are powerful entities, often in cahoots, that can and will ignore the First Amendment when they can get away with it.
NASA has posted a series of pairs of satellite images that show a range of changes around the world. They’re great for illustrating human-environment interactions; some of the changes are directly human-caused, while others, while others show the changing consequences of floods and fires as our settlement and agricultural patterns change.
For those of us living in Las Vegas, these images of the shrinking Lake Mead reservoir, which provides water and electricity, is not reassuring. The reservoir has gotten smaller due to multiple factors, including a long-term drought and more water being taken from the Colorado River upstream:
In his book, Great American City, sociologist Robert Sampson argues that, while the effects of macro factors like poverty and political neglect on individual lives are well-documented, other local mechanisms matter too. It’s important, then, to think about the constitution of neighborhoods.
Along these lines, he argues, even if a community is economically- and socially-marginalized, an existing neighborhood organizations can make a big difference. He takes natural disasters as a case study. A neighborhood organization can spread the news of an impending disaster, establish leadership, and organize assistance before, during, and after a crisis. In this way, Sampson brings together micro, meso, and macro forces shaping the impact of disaster.
I’m a particular fan of looking at ways that society and nature intersect and a new study is a fantastic example. Analysis of 15 years of storm data revealed that twisters and hailstorms were significantly more likely to occur during the week as compared to weekends.
According to the authors, Daniel Rosenfeld and Thomas Bell, the cause is pollution caused by commuting. Charles Choi, writing for National Geographic, explains:
…moisture gathers around specks of pollutants, which leads to more cloud droplets. Computer models suggest these droplets get lofted up to higher, colder air, leading to more plentiful and larger hail.
Understanding how pollution can generate more tornadoes is a bit trickier. First, the large icy particles of hail that pollutants help seed possess less surface area than an equal mass of smaller “hydrometeors”—that is, particles of condensed water or ice.
As such, these large hydrometeors evaporate more slowly, and thus are not as likely to suck heat from the air. This makes it easier for warm air to help form a “supercell,” the cloud type that usually produces tornadoes and large hail.
So, there you have it. No need to choose between nature and nurture. We interact with our environment and shape it, just as it shapes us.
Mexico filmmaker Pablo Fulgueira happened to be traveling in New York shortly after the attack of 9/11. He took the opportunity to interview people on the streets and turned that footage into this short documentary, “SiNYster,” showing the very first social consequences of the 9/11 attack in New York City.
Pablo Fulgueira studied filmmaking at the Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica in Mexico City and graduated in 2006.