The controversial and questionable prediction of a Dec. 2 or 3 earthquake along the New Madrid Fault from Arkansas through Missouri to Illinois provided us with another classic example of the modern trend toward pack journalism for events of dubious distinction.
While a good many of the media outlets in our general region took the entire matter with a badly needed grain of salt, so-called reporters and photographers from numerous sources poured in and turned what should be a serious matter into a circus. Some of the pictures and interviews on television, for example, were just about as silly as they could be. Granted, certain communities may have benefitted from the dollars such interest put into their cash drawers, but the scene was nothing about which people concerned over public perception of ``the media'' should be proud.
More than 40 television trucks, for example, were in New Madrid, Mo., before and during the ``crisis,'' and people responsible for their presence had to justify the expense. So they seemingly manufactured anything they could to get on camera and stay there. About the most polite evaluation of their behavior would be ``amusing.'' For many, ``disgusting'' comes more readily to mind. Said Bill Thompson, a Fort Worth, Tex., columnist who is upset by some of the modern journalism:
``Who cares that the character who predicted the earthquake is a phony, a charlatan, a two-bit hustler who claims that volcanic eruptions caused the fall of communism in Europe? . . . Who cares that media coverage of this `news' disrupted communities, frightened children, divided families? . . . Who cares about all that? It made a good story. That's the way we do things now.''
Iben Browning, a business consultant from Tijares, N.M., had said there was a 50-50 chance for a major quake in the Midwest or several other locations between Dec. 1 and Dec. 5. He based his projection on unusually high tidal forces, which he claims trigger earthquakes. Earthquake experts around the country said Browning's projection was nothing more than a random guess, and tidal forces had nothing to do with earthquakes. Browning's credentials are, at best, questionable, especially in the face of observations by qualified people.
But the feeding frenzy for pack ``journalists'' had begun, and the final picture was not a pretty one for the industry. The conclusion is that the nation probably has far too many media outlets without enough guidance to keep them busy pursuing valid and legitimate projects of value to society.