Media Kudos and Brickbats

by Steven F. Hayward

Media coverage of Japan is naturally obsessed with the drama of the Fukushima nuclear power plants because, you know, it would be boring to report the grim facts about the thousands of Japanese lives potentially still at risk from exposure to cold weather, uncertain water supplies, failing waste-water treatment, disease outbreaks, and food shortages, and the day-by-day struggle to dig out and figure out how to rebuild, etc. No, the media needs to do what it does best in these situations: spread panic. Too bad we don’t have George W. Bush to kick around; I’m sure the lefty press would figure out the angle, and mention Katrina somehow.

Amazingly the worst among American papers may well be the front page of the Wall Street Journal, whose Thursday six-column headline takes the biscuit for irresponsibility: “U.S. Sounds Alarm on Radiation.” From that headline, you’d think the government was worried about radiation risk blowing across the ocean to our shores. But it’s just the unremarkable story that the U.S. advises a larger evacuation zone near the reactors in Japan than the Japanese are calling for. This deserves a breathless six-column head? Even the New York Times looks sober and reasonable by comparison.

Kudos belong to The Atlantic, which has had several good online pieces, including this one from Christine Russell, which calmly explains how to judge the risks and effects of even the worst-case scenario, and this one from Joshua Green on why we may not give up on nuclear power despite this disaster (short summary: It’s not 1979 any more, and Jane Fonda seems happy to stay in retirement). Not to mention this jarring pictorial, with some of the more gruesome images behind a screen.  

Finally, somewhere in-between is this Bloomberg/Business Week piece that makes out Japan’s nuclear management to be the rough equivalent of housing policy under Fannie Mae. (Hat tip: my investment-banker guy. Hey, if Jonah can have an expert posse, I want one too.)

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