Nuclear Crisis In Japan – Slo Mo Crisis Of Tangible Things

Perhaps it’s the linguistic barriers; parachuting anchors into Japan probably don’t even have Japanese tourist phrasebooks. But it’s amazing how absent Japanese people, officials or volunteers are from newscasts. A speech from the Japanese Prime Minister announcing the Fukushima reactors are at a crisis point didn’t merit coverage. By contrast, earlier ramblings of a tribal dictator fighting over empty sand? Wall to wall saturation.

Perhaps we’re overly critical of American news media (primarily broadcast). Yet our impression is of Americans talking primarily to Americans standing in debris fields without Japanese faces, voices or perspectives. American broadcasters in Egypt found translators and interviewed protestors, covered Mubarak addresses, etc. Yet the greatest natural disaster in modern times happens to be in a Japan without many Japanese on camera. So far.

There are vague references to homeless. And people without food, water, medicine, heat. Little coverage on what’s actually being done, what needs to be done. The difference with coverage in Haiti is stark. Perhaps because the Japanese social contract removes ‘good tv’ images of conflict, riots, or looting.

Instead, American networks latch onto more easily covered tangible things such as exploding nuclear reactors. Broadcast producers appear to book anyone with ‘nuclear’ in their job title, from disarmament types to nuclear power (pro or con) lobbyists. It’s a two-fer if the commentator is a physicist. Unsurprisingly the commentary about the Dai Ichi plants presents more chyron alarm than clarity – exchanges of ignorance.

A corollary to the American fixation on tangible Japanese buildings is obsession on what it means for us. Should California prepare for nuclear fallout? Could California plants at Diablo Canyon survive a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami? How will Californians buy a Prius going forward? What happens to Americans’ 401ks? And perhaps most salient to Americans, how will the crisis affect their plans to buy an iPad 2?

We don’t dismiss a nuclear crisis verging close to a true meltdown. That desperate situation, however, will unfold over considerable time. Should matters continue to deteriorate the damage and clean up will be a challenge for years. Meanwhile tsunami survivors, homeless, without shelter, food, water or medicine either get needed help or succumb. Which prompts the question, ‘If catastrophe victims get help and American tv doesn’t cover them, were they ever in danger?’


  1. Comment says

    @Mike Flugennock
    Very true – AJ English stunned us when we 1st saw it because we just assumed it was being hyped by leftists like Amy Goodman for political reasons (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and recalled when AJ was originally described by NY Times as Arab-centric version of fox news – ie, lots of flashy colors and cutting and sounds.
    But when we saw it it was all substance – like PBS Newhour, but with less fluff and filler. It’s bias is somewhat beside the point.
    The total squalor and vacuity of Matthews et al is so apparent in the contrast –
    The powers that be want people to remain uninformed and confused.

  2. says


    Talk about “out of their depth”… We don’t get AJ on the dish where we are, but in the process of hooking up a DTV box to my old analog VCR in the studio, I ran the auto-scan and stumbled on an obscure educational channel (old UHF) in the Virginia ‘burbs that was running the AJ English feed wall-to-wall. I ended up nailing the DTV tuner down to that channel and spending almost the entire afternoon for days at a time watching the Egyptian revolution live and uninterrupted. I remember one evening during that week, going down to the kitchen for a sandwich and stopping off at the bedroom, where my wife was flipping between CNN and MSNBC “coverage” of Egypt; now, I already knew that US coverage and “analysis” of world events was inane, shallow and insipid, but I had no idea just how bad it was until, after an afternoon of AJ, checking out five minutes of Egypt coverage on CNN and MSNBC. Jeezus, it was like watching the scene through the wrong end of a telescope. The commentary and “analysis” was gobsmackingly awful. It would’ve actually been an improvement if they’d just brought a bunch of monkeys into the studios and had them fling their own shit at each other for an hour.

  3. says


    “Tweety”? You call Chris Matthews “Tweety”? D’ahh ha ha ha ha hah.

    Here in our neck of the woods — Washington DC — we’ve taken to calling him “Chris Matthews, The Baby Eater”.

  4. Comment says

    “I confess that I’m surprised to find myself in this strange position, since (as I said in my earlier blog post) my professional interest as a historian has always been to research and understand the full spectrum of American political opinion. I often spend as much time defending Republican and conservative points of view to my liberal friends as vice versa. (For what it’s worth, I have never belonged to either party.)”
    ~Sad Professor

  5. Comment says

    @DrLeoStrauss Yes, lashing – otherwise he would not have been so condescending and lazy they way says what is left or right – Many lines are basically bait that critics will highlight to mock him.

  6. Comment says

    @DrLeoStrauss Also he is deep denial about the rampant Judy Millerism that his paper pushed re Iraq et al. As a self loathing liberal he whines about Bush, calls the wars illegal, then says he is a “reluctant hawk.” – He’s just like a liberal pastor who hopes to lure the well to do young back with less brimstone and more yoga.

  7. DrLeoStrauss says


    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    He’s been lashing out a bit lately. Probably saw a new social startup about sharing broken laundry machines on campus was valued more than the Times . . . again.

  8. sglover says

    @ Comment: Oh, I only meant that I have a hard time keeping track of the nicknames you guys use. “Tweety” is Matthews, right?

    And yeah, if your factory-issue liberals hear you bashing the right people, they’ll automatically assume you’re on “their” side. Since the bashing as often as not centers on awkward grammar, unhipness, or other class signifiers, it’s always mordantly amusing to see libs puzzling over the yokels’ hostility. More evidence of backwardness, natch.

  9. Comment says

    @sglover Tweety is just a symbol – shorthand for a larger problem of ignorance being rewarded – celebrated. While world moves on.
    As long as Tweety mocks Bachmann’s “balloon head” – liberals forgive him for his years of trespass against them. It’s just sort of a symbol of a larger phenom.

  10. sglover says

    There are exactly two useful functions that American public radio performs:

    1) Hosting some good **local** music shows.

    2) Rebroadcasting such foreign news services as the BBC, Deutsche Welle (sp?), CBC, the Dutch service, etc.

    Other than that, NPR can fold tomorrow for all I care.

    I’m often at a loss when folks here talk about “Tweety” and other American news celebs. I can’t remember the last time I saw an American broadcast “journalist” who wasn’t obviously totally out of his depth. And I don’t think that’s anything new: For instance, I don’t see how the sainted Cronkite was anything more than a kind of televised Broder.

    • Dr Leo Strauss says

      Agree re NPR. Only concern is their symbolic value now as yet another liberal premature flinch into willful but clueless suicide. Funny to contemplate that Uncle Walter wouldn’t even get a screening interview today.

  11. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Agree with the ranking structure. World Service is outstanding. Have also found Reuters offers a near real time balanced mix of human dimension, nuclear and economic data. Don’t have access to Al Jazeera here in the Metropole, naturally. Also find unfiltered Japanese media valuable.

    Your second Brit tier seems about right along with McClatchy. From there, the drop off to the national/regional papers is noticeable. NY Times and LA Times offer good if sporadic coverage — to wit, today’s item analyzing the structural collapse of the Japanese 1955 governing mechanism from discredited bureaucracy to inept political class. Can’t think of any other papers even close. WaPo isn’t.

    The Dawn is often a better read as you note. Australian media is often better than national U.S. paper.

    American cable and blogs seem to shoehorn developments into their existing conflict prisms with heroes/villains. It’s amazing whom cable puts on as ‘nuclear experts’ and what they say without challenge.

    The familiar chicken and egg question – do the American people sink lower because their media dumbs them down, or do Americans get the media they deserve?

  12. Tbilisi says

    The BBC World Service has been covering the situation well, and with its usual humanity. I am still surprised how many people here who consider themselves liberal, educated, and worldly still regard the BBC as hopelessly foreign and irrelevant, when IMO the World Service is today overall probably the most easily accessible, high-quality journalism outlet in the English language.

    I would actually be interested in others opinion on the matter? In the top tier have to be BBC World Service and AJ-English at the least, and then below them the main BBC, FT, Guardian, Economist, and McClatchy followed by national/regional papers, and then finally the corporate slop. I would for certain issues and on many days of the week put Pakistan’s Dawn above the NYT.

  13. Comment says

    Tweety is showing repeats of week old footage. Same as during the Iraq war showing a b roll for the first 4 years of war.

  14. Anon says

    Meanwhile Charlie Sheen burps or Britanny Spears gets into a bar fight and the coverage of Japan is gone.

    On the day Nixon resigned my small, jingoistic South America paper had it on first page: An interview with a local artist that had painted a Nixon portrait. In small letters in column 27 the resignation as mentioned, but not before 4 pages of self centered “what does it mean to our little corner of the woods” coverage.

    Sad to see the shining light upon a hill I followed like a moth being dimmed. I came here to escape a banana republic, not to see US turn into one.

  15. Dr Leo Strauss says

    To CNN’s credit, on the evening of 15 March, it began running a few 15-20 second clips of NHK broadcasts with translations featuring Japanese survivors. A welcome but small change.

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