Inevitably, within 24 hours of Oklahoma’s monster tornado, one of my very good friends posted to Facebook, deploring the descent of the news media on the scene of the disaster.
Several other friends were quick to “like” his post, and add comments of their own.
I understood the gut reaction, but I couldn’t agree. It’s one thing to deplore the media’s lack of wit, tact and basic good manners – but would you rather do without them?
Without doubt, the media frenzy following any disaster – natural or man-made – can be disgraceful, if not disgusting.
Does anyone really need to shove a camera into the face of a grieving parent, former homeowner, or distressed neighbor to ask, “How do you feel?”
Of course not. It’s an inconsiderate – not to say dumb – question.
But, while acknowledging the excesses and just plain boorishness to be expected when a group of people, mostly young, descend on a disaster site under intense pressure to “get the story” – would we really want to change the rules?
For example, one thing which most troubles Americans about our modern media is the 24-hour news cycle – and the consequent, endless replaying of the same shocking scenes.
But the question arises: How would you know these scenes are being replayed and replayed, unless your eyeballs were glued to whatever screen you’re watching?
And if you’ve seen enough, why not just turn it off?
Then there’s this consideration: For everyone with the leisure to watch for hours, as a disaster unfolds, there’s another who can grab only an occasional minute to stay informed. Isn’t it good to know that – when on your busiest day – the top story will be there waiting for you on some network, or online?
The flip-side of the endless news cycle is that there’s never a wrong time to turn on the news. It’ll be there when you need it.
Of course, some will argue that we really don’t need so much coverage. There was a tornado. Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed. Dozens are missing and feared dead. What more do we need to know? Do we really need all the graphic details?
Well, yes – some of us do.
Some among us know people in the Oklahoma City area – and will be relieved to learn that the tornado which destroyed Moore did not hit other areas where their friends or loved ones live.
More to the point, there are people in a position to do something about this disaster. In our area, there are, for example, trained Red Cross volunteers who have the skills to help. But they need to know the extent of the need before making the personal decision to volunteer for a specific relief mission.
There are thousands who might be moved to contribute money to the relief effort. (A note here: Please don’t send teddy bears, food, old clothes and the like. It just creates problems for relief workers. Send money. They’ll buy what folks need.)
There are others who will give blood – a decision which helps both the donor and those receiving the donation.
For those who believe in the effectuality of intercessory prayer, witnessing the extent of the damage and loss might move them to pray, or to pray longer, or to gather with others to pray collectively.
Then there’s the need we all share – as citizens – to understand the sorts of devastating things that can happen in our country, so that we can adopt the necessary policies for disaster preparedness, and for training our first responders, etc.
Perhaps, too, we might reflect that the “Big Government” we are so quick to denounce is the only entity in the world capable of bringing the sort of massive relief which will put a stricken community back on the road to recovery in months, rather than years or decades.
Finally, perhaps, the seven billion people presently living on this fragile planet need to begin coming to terms with the fact that devastating storms – tornados in the plains, hurricanes along the coastline, blizzards at the wrong time of year – are becoming larger, more destructive, and more frequent.
Because – deny it who will – our planet is slowly warming, because of human activity.
And that fact guarantees that storms like Isabel and Katrina, like Sandy, like this week’s tornado will become ever more common, more destructive, and more costly.
We need to get ready for that, at least.
Perhaps, if we can find the wisdom, the courage and the will, we could even think about not letting the giant, international energy companies continue setting our energy policies – and start finding new ways of living sustainably.
At any rate, for all the media’s faults, I like living in a country where they are free to be foolish, rude, and offensive. I’d prefer they were more considerate – but I’ll settle for being informed.