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Tuesday, 04 February 2003

The Media Isn't Trying Hard Enough

This post is prompted by a similar one at Illruminations.

I've been following the Columbia tragedy quite closely, and I've pretty much come to one unescapable conclusion. If you have any interest, at all, in finding out what happened, please don't treat the media as your first port of call.

So, the media is useful for a few things. Uncovering memos, for starters. Airing grievances from employees. But when they're not covering those things, they're way behind the curve. Not just that, but the new practice of hiring anchors whose only redeeming qualities are, to put it bluntly, look nice and be able to read an autocue are somewhat disturbing.

Everyone has seen the CNN graphic cockup, where it was claimed that the Shuttle was traveling at 18 times the speed of light. Now, CNN's coverage on Saturday was by and large exemplary compared to some other networks: I was watching them because I'd switched over from Fox News who were relatively quick off the ball but managed to fall off it more or less straight away when I heard the anchorwoman talk about the Shuttle being "200,000 miles away".

Then, there's the countless second-guessing. The shuttle should have been ferried to the ISS. The shuttle should've had EVA capability. The tiles on the underside should have been inspected. The shuttle should have tile repair capability. There should have been an escape route (yes, at Mach 18 and at an altitude of 200,000 feet it's rather trivial). Things like these involve a slightly-more than trivial amount of research, but research that should be done. But then there's the other type of research, research that's trivial.

I was talking about this with friends. The media's job is to provide accurate reporting, and to provide that reporting as quickly as it can. There is no excuse for not doing fact checking, because then you're not reporting news. You're reporting anything you want. There's no excuse for an anchor not having at least some grounding of science to know that the Shuttle wouldn't be 200,000 miles away from earth (for the record, the mean distance from the Earth to the moon is about 238,855 miles), and even less that the person creating onscreen graphics shouldn't know that the Shuttle can't travel at 18 times the speed of light. I expected that the public would do some sort of fact-checking on the media on this, but not to this extent.

Please, if you're at all interested in this, then check out the Columbia Loss FAQ [text, html].

2 comments and trackbacks

Though I agree wholeheartedly with everything you wrote - the moon is actually about 238,855.1 miles away on average, not 148,418.
-Mike

Posted by: Michael on February 14, 2003 07:51 PM

Sorry, a bad conversion on my part - fixed now!

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