Perils of We

| March 24, 2011

Editor:

In "The FUD Factor" about Japan's post-tsunami nuclear reactor problems ("From the Editor," March 17), you quote Professor Stepp of HSU about the media in such situations. He says, "They basically yell ‘Fire' in a crowded theater and then interview the people they frightened to see if they are afraid."

Kudos to him for that insight, but none for the first part of his statement, "The media ought to be ashamed of itself." Itself? The good professor needn't worry about mixing singulars and plurals when it comes to that word, "media."

It's from Latin and is plural - always plural. The NCJ is a medium; newspapers, radio and television are media.

Peter Hannaford, Eureka

 

Editor:

 Your obiter dictum about the impact of the FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) Factor in world press coverage of Japan's nuclear crisis recalls Dr. Johnson's 18th-century admonition about the perils of journalism. The journalist, Johnson wrote in London in 1758, "however honest, will frequently deceive, because he will frequently be deceived himself." A reporter on deadline "is obliged to transmit the earliest intelligence before he knows how far it may be credited; he relates transactions yet fluctuating in uncertainty; he delivers reports of which he knows not the authors."

Although, as you say, reporters suffer from herd instinct and get things wrong more often than newspaper correction columns disclose, FUD is fed by deeper sources of long lineage. The Florentine Renaissance diplomat and historian Francesco Guicciardini lamented the unreliability of war news in the 1500s. His skepticism applies to crisis coverage in any age. Late in life he wrote in his memoirs, "I often witnessed the arrival of news which would have made you think things were going very badly; suddenly other news would arrive that seemed to promise victory.

"At other times, the good news arrived first, and then the bad." He anticipated Dr. Johnson's note 300 years later of "transactions yet fluctuating in uncertainty." Guicciardini, a superbly canny fellow, went on to warn of another, timeless FUD Factor. If you think about it carefully, he said - note his prudential use of the subjunctive mood - "We do not have any true information about the present, or about the things that happen every day in our own city. Often there is such a dense cloud or a thick wall between the palace and the marketplace that the human eye is unable to penetrate it. When that is the case, the people will know as much about what their rulers are doing or the reason for doing it, as they know about what is happening in India. And thus the world is filled with erroneous and idle opinions."

Pretty perceptive, those Renaissance chaps.

I close with a caveat about the "D" factor in the FUD Regime. "Doubt," Voltaire opined, "is an unpleasant state; but certainty is a ridiculous one."

Paul Mann, McKinleyville

 

Comments (1)

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From "fire" to frivolous. So easily sold. Just presume that "thousands of times below the Level of Concern" is good. Surely, our Environmental Protection Agency would reach a Level of Concern if the radiation would cause cancer in 30 years, right? Wrong! EPA's DEFINITION for LEVEL OF CONCERN is: "The concentration in air of an extremely hazardous substance above which there may be SERIOUS IMMEDIATE HEALTH EFFECTS TO ANYONE EXPOSED TO IT FOR SHORT PERIODS. If a short burst doesn't make you immediately sick, it is not a level of concern! We're getting smaller doses over longer periods of time, and no risk statements relative to that!

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Posted by Humboldt Speaks on 03/24/2011 at 5:49 PM
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