CNN's Stelter Faults Media On Louisiana Flooding: “It's Got To Be Connected To Climate Change"

Slate's Eric Holthaus: Media “Missed” The “Underlying Story” That “We're Going To Start Seeing More” Of These Disasters

From the August 21 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:

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BRIAN STELTER: [T]he flooding in and around Baton Rouge is now the worst natural disaster to hit the U.S. since Superstorm Sandy by some estimates. So did the national media somehow, in some ways drop the ball when covering this event and if so, why? Eric Holthaus, one of my favorite meteorologists I follow on Twitter, he writes about weather and climate change and serves as the host of the climate-focused podcast Warm Regards. Eric, good to see you.

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Hi, thanks.

STELTER: What's the reality check here about the initial coverage of the flood? This time last week, did the press fall down on the job?

HOLTHAUS: Yeah, I think absolutely. This time last week, we were hearing about this on Twitter, mostly. And I think that this is the sort of disaster that we're going to start seeing more of. That's what worries me, really. That's what the underlying story here is that's missed, I think even still today, is that we have sort an anonymous storm, hitting a relatively anonymous place that's been hit by a lot of disasters. There's a lot of fatigue in the media about Louisiana flooding. At the same time -- 

STELTER: I want to get to the climate change part in just a moment. But let me ask about the no names for a minute -- that was a big part of this. Sandy, Katrina, we know these storms because they were named by the National Hurricane Center. This was different because it was a flood. Floods don't have names. That was a factor, wasn't it?

HOLTHAUS: Yeah. Even flooding is a larger killer on average than tornadoes and hurricanes in the U.S. on an annual average. And when was the last time you saw TV cut in for a flood warning or something like that.


STELTER: What's the difference between a flood and a hurricane from a coverage perspective? 

HOLTHAUS: It's a slow onset disaster just like a drought is. And you know we get a lot of California drought coverage, but again, not nearly as much as there should be. Drought is among the costliest natural disaster[s] in the U.S. on average per year, and it doesn't make necessarily for, if you have missed that moment where you those tremendously heart wrenching flash flood water rescues like you showed, once you miss those clips, then there's not a whole lot to cover, except for people clearing out their houses of all their belongings and all their kids' art work. It's a gut wrenching tragedy, but it's not as sexy as a tornado. 

STELTER: Interesting. And then it effects the number of donations, et cetera, et cetera. And of course as you pointed out, it's got to be connected to climate change. It's got to be pointed out that there is evidence that these are happening more often due to climate change and are more extreme due to climate change. And if we're not there in the early stages it's harder to cover that later.


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