Controlling the hysteria about Japan

The earthquake/tsunami/potential nuclear meltdown in Japan is one of the great disasters to hit the Western world.  It’s worth remembering, however, that the media is a visual engine that lives to convey disaster.

This post is an excellent antidote to that media tendency, as it carefully explains why the world is not ending in Japan.  This is Japan’s Katrina — not politically, of course, but in terms of the scope of the disaster.  It was a regional earthquake, not a national one.

Further, Japanese systems handled the quake itself fabulously.  There is nothing that can be done against a tsunami, though, and that’s where the real tragedies unfolded, as can be seen vividly in this NYT’s interactive feature.

Ten thousand dead, the current estimate, is a heartbreaking number, especially in a small county.  Nevertheless, when you think of a 9.1 earthquake, followed by a tsunami, followed by nuclear reactor problems, you realize that the number is actually exceedingly low.  It’s low because (a) Japan was prepared and (b) the earthquake and tsunami, thankfully, affected only a relatively small area of the country.

The media coverage reminds me of the 1989 earthquake coverage in San Francisco.  I was out of town when the quake hit, and was absolutely paralyzed with fear when I saw reports that made it look as if the City was in flames.  In fact, the City was inconvenienced by the power outages, but the damage was local:  a small part of downtown, the Marina district, the Nimitz freeway in the East Bay, a few square blocks near UCSF Medical School, and one collapsed segment of the Bay Bridge.  But the media couldn’t downplay it, it had to up-play it.  This was the same media that reported cannibalism after only two days in New Orleans.