US TV-Parochialism from an old game book

Some of the US TV coverage of the Japan disaster was pedestrian, verging on the foolish. Hundreds of thousands homeless, tens of thousands missing, nuclear reactors melting — and at least two outlets used their precious time to produce little human interest stories — which smacked of being manufactured — about two Americans who they had found to be safe, as if that had really been in question.

NHK TV live and on the internet — is a comprehensive way of learning about the breadth of the tsunami-earthquake-nuclear story.

The premise of two pieces on CNN and NBC segments involved two cases where young family members had been unable to contact their parents back home, who
were worried. That’s fine, but it was less a case of being missing than the case of not having a telephone. Both involved young Americans who had been too busy checking on the safety of people around them than to wait in line for a hard-to-get phone call. OK, it was American and it pulled at the heartstrings; at the same time there was almost a smug look on the faces of the reporters who had hauled in the human interest.

But come on. The journalistic story at a disaster is to analyze systems, identify problems, represent the public — the American public included. How does this really affect us? What can we draw from the collapse of public systems? And what can we do to help? Human interest yes, but with a little dignity rather than old parochial formulas.

CNN continues to be the best game on U.S. mainstream TV, and they did some good work. They finally brought in an eminent nuclear specialist without an agenda, a step-up from their weekend choice, Prof. Glenn Sjoden, a nuclear advocate who is also a consultant for industry. At their best, U.S. networks also questioned the openness of Japanese officials on the nuclear story. One of the good analysts on the airways was James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Acton was concise, well spoken and authoritative. Let’s hear more of that.

2 Comments

Filed under Asia, Japan, Journalism

2 responses to “US TV-Parochialism from an old game book

  1. Good criticisms of the US networks. But to defend them, the news is developing on the other side of the planet where CNN and NBC don’t have anything like the connections that NHK has. CNN got Anderson Cooper there, and Sanjay Gupta, which makes it look like they’re on the job, but they simply can’t get info on what’s happening in the centers of the tsunami destruction or inside the power plants. One thing I’ve NOT heard at all is who exactly is on the nuclear sites dealing with all that, in the midst of the reported radiation. Remember in Chernobyl there were accounts of heroic actions on the parts of people on the site, but no equivalent info about on-site activity is coming from Japan.

    • petereisner

      You’re right, Bob. CNN and NBC can’t compete with NHK in terms of resources. There are a couple of problems. One is that CNN especially operates on star power. We used to call it sending in firemen. Send in the big guys and it sounds important. Meanwhile, the level of foreign corresponding worldwide has decreased with shrunken budgets. But the TV news formula as it exists often leads to limited scope and storytelling, even considering the resources available.

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