The Louisiana Flood: A Case Study in Opportunistic Sensationalism

Look, it’s not a palatable argument to have to make, but that’s what drives the pervasive media-driven sensationalism in this country.  So I’m going to have to say it:  The Louisiana floods, terrible though they are, do not even approach the caliber of disaster to which the media is slowly raising them.  It is not easy to stare human suffering in the face and argue that its severity not be overestimated, but this is precisely the issue with which the American public has been struggling for a very long time in a wide array of subjects.  And our inability to conquer the matter is causing such paralyzed public discourse that we are winding up with the likes of Trump as a serious Presidential candidate.

But let’s not get side-tracked from the case at hand:

At first, the Louisiana flood appears to have earned an amount of attention which media outlets have slowly begun to consider unacceptable.  Gradually, the media vultures saw their opportunity rise and now they’re landing all over the story.  USA Today calls the disaster the “worst disaster since Hurrricane Sandy” and self-righteously laments:

More than a dozen USA TODAY stories on the topic have performed average, at best. Readers simply aren’t clicking on them. Maybe this article will be the same.

Comparing the disaster to Hurricane Katrina, Fox News is predictably lambasting Obama for failing to drop everything and rush to Louisiana.  And this is a pattern raging through right-wing media outlets far and wide.  And don’t think the far left isn’t doing its part, blaming the allegedly insufficient attention on the relative poverty of the region or those ubiquitous oppressive ideologies inherent to Western culture…

So what is really going on?  Well, the number going around right now is that 40,000 homes were destroyed and 13 people killed in what ought to be considered a 1,000-year flood event.  So that’s pretty bad, alright.  Somehow, however, people seem to be dramatically exaggerating the cost of this disaster.  At least one guy (a meteorologist), representative of many, it seems, is throwing out a guess of a “multi-billion dollar” impact, but.. the Red Cross, the governor, and FEMA expect a $30 million cost.

So basically, all those claims of comparison to Sandy (whose flooding cost $8.3 billion across more than twenty states) and Katrina (a staggering $16.3 billion) are absolutely bogus.  Sandy destroyed 100,000 homes in Long Island, NY alone.  It killed 233 people and caused an estimated total of $75 billion in damage.  Katrina is even worse, killing 1,245 people and costing $108 billion in total damage.  Furthermore, the reason Bush was criticized so heavily during Katrina was on account of the utterly inept, horrendously delayed response from FEMA at the hands of Michael Brown, who had absolutely zero emergency management experience prior to being nominated for and appointed to his post as the director of the organization by Bush, himself.

This idea that the President of the United States needs to cut short his vacation to make a purely pro forma appearance  at the site of a disaster which is already being competently handled by FEMA is garbage.  To falsely equivocate this with Katrina, or to give the impression even that this disaster is of similar scope to the costliest two hurricanes in United States history is exactly as I stated in the title of this post:

Opportunistic Sensationalism.

Our country is succumbing to this nonsense left and right.  It is a fog intentionally generated by accidental conspiracy in which a huge variety of actors seek emotional leverage for their irrational ends.  The important consequence is that our public dialogue is extremely hindered by this nonsense.  On the left is generated obvious nonsense from the false notion of overwhelming “gun violence” to the absurd idea that one in four women is raped in college.  On the right is found false equivocation between the political parties and climate change denial.

The power given to the average individual in modern society to generate content of potentially dramatic influence is higher than it has ever been in history.  It is probably extremely predictable that this sort of irrationality saturation would occur, but it’s lamentable nonetheless.  Most importantly, we have to recognize it and handle it accordingly.  When it comes to dealing with one another in today’s society, perhaps now more than ever is required of us a Stoic commitment to control over our emotions whose response is so eagerly pursued by myriad, incessant broadcasts.

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