Pop Culture with Paul Farhi: Nashville floods, Lena Horne, Betty White

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Paul Farhi
Tuesday, May 11, 2010; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Paul Farhi talks about topical issues in the pop culture world of TV, radio, movies and trends.<br><br>Today: What about Nashville? Historic rains caused massive flooding in Music City last week and more than $1 billion in damage. But the story didn't rate much national attention. Does the media have compassion fatique? Or can it only handle one massive environmental disaster at a time? Plus: What Lena Horne said about sex and race in America. And: Should Betty White get a Kennedy Center Honor?<br><br>

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Paul Farhi: Greetings, all and welcome again...So, a great American city gets hammered by floods, its downtown devastated, some of its world-renowned institutions damaged and the national news media's reaction is a kind of collective shrug? That's what happened in Nashville last week. Let's see: The streets downtown are now lined with debris after the Cumberland River spilled its banks after a record-setting downpour lasting. The damage is now estimated at $1.4 billion (making it one of the most expensive natural disasters in American history), 30 people are dead in Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi, and 17,000 people are asking for federal help. Pretty terrible, yet the story has gotten relatively little attention (for the record, the Post did not send a correspondent to Tennessee, and has run just a few stories on the floods). Where's the presidential flyover of the damaged area? Where's the star-studded relief telethon with George Clooney?Greetings, all and welcome again...So, a great American city gets hammered by floods, its downtown devastated, some of its world-renowned institutions damaged and the national news media's reaction is a kind of collective shrug? That's what happened in Nashville last week. Let's see: The streets downtown are now lined with debris after the Cumberland River spilled its banks after a record-setting downpour lasting. The damage is now estimated at $1.4 billion (making it one of the most expensive natural disasters in American history), 30 people are dead in Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi, and 17,000 people are asking for federal help. Pretty terrible, yet the story has gotten relatively little attention (for the record, the Post did not send a correspondent to Tennessee, and has run just a few stories on the floods). Where's the presidential flyover of the damaged area? Where's the star-studded relief telethon with George Clooney?The media DID show up in Music City, but kind of late. Anderson Cooper and CNN got there last Thursday, several days after the worst had hit (compare that arrival to the networks' very quick response to the Haitian earthquake, admittedly a far more catastrophic event). Anyway, the media might not have shown up at all if it hadn't been for musicians like Vince Gill and Keith Urban who were calling attention to the calamity.What's going on here? I'm sure you've got your theories, and I'd like to hear them. I'll throw out just one: Washington-New York myopia. The Gulf oil spill and the Times Square would-be car bombing soaked up a lot of media resources and diverted attention away from Nashville. Understandable--both are/were big stories.. But both fit another priority of the news networks--they provided fodder for many hours of pundit debate, which is the lifeblood of cable news. The Gulf mess gave everyone a chance to argue again about energy policy; the Times Square episode enable more talk about terrorism and domestic security. Flooding? Well, there are issues there, but none that fit the typical shoutfest agenda (federal flood insurance? Overdevelopment? Borrrrring!). You want your Beltway-Manhattan myopia? Look no further than the coverage of the White House Correspondents dinner. Live and wall-to-wall! As Frank Rich pointed out in his Sunday column in the New York Times, MSNBC only reluctantly broke away from the dinner to report on the car bombing--which was occuring almost literally down the block from NBC News' headquarters.Never mind the news. We're too busy naval gazing.Elsewhere: R.I.P., Lena Horne. When I was a kid, Horne was already a legend. She was a symbol of black achievement, beauty and talent. And I wouldn't argue with a bit of that. But there was always something about her that bothered me. In the racial madness of the time--the time being the 1960s-Horne, like Diahann Carroll, was "an acceptable Negro," that is, acceptable image of female blackness to white audiences. Much of this, I think, is because of Horne's particular beauty, which was almost white. My colleague Gene Robinson put it perfectly today (as he does so many things): "She was light-skinned, with just enough tan in her complexion to make it evident that she wasn't white. Her nose was narrow, almost turned-up; her hair, in the fashion of the times, was always straightened. She was, by any standard, gorgeous. But she knew that the racial ambiguity of her looks allowed her to attain a level of stardom that was inaccessible to singers and actors who conformed more closely to white America's image of 'black.' "Yes, exactly. And even that wasn't really quite enough to bridge racial assumptions of the time. She was often deemed "too" black. In several movie roles, she was filmed separately from the rest of the white cast, so that her part could be snipped out when the films were shown in the South. When MGM remade "Showboat," in 1951, the studio turned her down in favor of her friend, Ava Gardner, whose singing voice was dubbed and who wore special makeup--to darken her skin.So, Lena Horne was a great star and a pioneer in American show business. But I'm sure she sensed, and spent much of her lifetime being angry about, the racial condescension inherent in her stardom.And lastly: Someone seems to be starting another Facebook campaign for Betty White, hot off her winning appearance on "Saturday Night Live" the other night. "Betty White Deserves a Kennedy Center Honor" is the FB group. My reaction: Well, yeah, I guess so, sure, why not. But how about a Mark Twain Award for comedy instead? The Mark Twain Awards are also handed out by the Kennedy Center, and would put Ms. White in more elite company--with icons like George Carlin and Mel Brooks. Just a thought, not a sermon...Okay. Let's go to the phones...

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The Airless Cubicle: Nashville should have received more coverage, but there were two reasons iti didn't. The Gulf oil fire/sinking/spill, the deadlocked British elections and the Tea Party are dramatic and generate controversy. Floods are, in comparison, commonplace. Droughts don't receive much coverage, either. Secondly, although Nashville is the symbolic center of country music, it isn't as financially important a city as New Orleans or Houston, which are major ports. If Branson survives, so will country music. If there were more news outlets that weren't up to their neck in financial trouble, then there would be more coverage, but there aren't, so we miss the Nashville floods. In such emergencies, radio provides a great service. WSM has covered the flooding extensively, just as WWL covered hurricanes and our own WTOP covered the blizzards ths winter. You don't need a major network to find out what happens in Nashville, just an AM receiver tuned to 650 kHz.

Paul Farhi: Hi, everyone. Sorry for the delayed start. We have massive tech issues here. I even wrote a fancy opening, which will be posted in a few minutes. Sheesh...Anyway, I don't buy the "financial trouble" angle. It costs nothing, really, for TV stations to pick up footage from stations or videographers in an affected area. And newspapers have wire services, which covered the floods extensively. This was just a failure of will and effort and desire.

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herndon, va: -- waaay ahead of her time. Can you imagine what she could have been if she'd started out in say, the 1970s? Even with some racial idiocy still going on, she would have had lead roles in movies and starred in her own TV series and music videos. I guess we should just be grateful we have the movies, records and TV tapes she left behind. If I remember correctly, Red Foxx, on "Sandord and Son," was always going on about being madly in love with her, and she did at least one guest shot on the show.

Paul Farhi: I'm not really sure how she'd fare if she'd started in the '70s. Times were still pretty tough then for African-American performers. She might not have gotten the same breaks. And her singing style might have been dated, or out of favor, by then, too. And I don't remember her on "Sanford" but I'm gonna watch some more TV Land. Sounds like a must-see!

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Pittsburgh, PA: There have been some really great writeups of Lena Horne (and I thought it was classy for Marketplace to play a recording of "Stormy Weather" even though the markets were actually up yesterday). The only real shame is that it feels like only now that we (and the media) are taking note of how much she accomplished; call it the Freddie Mercury Syndrome, where someone had been out of the public eye for years and years, and it was only after they died that we really say, "Oh yeah, they were truly amazing". RIP, Ms. Horne.

Paul Farhi: Well, hold on. She was 92, and long, long past her prime. No one (except maybe Betty White--ThreadWeaver!) gets celebrated for that many years. But point taken. There are millions of Americans (anyone under 45, I'd guess) who are wondering, "Lena who?"

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Why the Nashville Flooding Didn't Rate Coverage: Kanye told me: Obama don't care 'bout white people.

Paul Farhi: Obnoxious but interesting comment. Nashville is not as black a city as New Orleans. But I doubt race had anything to do with this story being sort of a non-story.

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Betty White: a dissenting voice: Paul, I really enjoyed BW's monologue on SNL, and actually thought that MacGruber was pretty funny (for once). But the rest of the show just wasn't that good. Yes, she's a pro, and yes, she has great timing. But the senior-citizen-doing-dirty-jokes meme ran a little too long, and the sketches were just too thin at times. I thought the bulk of the show just wasn't that good. For a minute, I actually was really happy to see Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon on "NPR's Delicious Dish"....until I remembered that the idea only worked once, the first time, in 1997.

Paul Farhi: But the "Little Women" bit was pretty funny. And, yes, "MacGruber" was tolerable....I just liked her overall professionalism, twinkle and spunk. She really transcended the material.

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Nashville story: How can you get the cliche man on the street reporter down there to report if the roads are flooded or wiped out?

Paul Farhi: There are already people THERE. It's not the surface of the moon. And the media always finds a way in to a story, and quickly. Witness: Katrina, Haiti, the W. Va. coal-mine explosion...

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British elections: Does the outcome affect US/UK relations in any significant way?

Paul Farhi: Probably, but I couldn't exactly articulate how or why. Worse, however, is all the coverage which never explained that essential point. It was just taken for granted. I listened to NPR's discussion of the election last night, about the negotiations among the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labor Party. Now, I think I know what a Conservative stands for, and maybe what Labor's about. But what do the Liberal Democrats want? It would have been nice for NPR (and everyone else covering this story) to do some boilerplate reporting for idiots like me.

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From the "Kanye" guy: Of course that was a joke (and not bad for a Tuesday afternoon)...but the bigger point is that Nashville hasn't been plagued by a dependence on government, exacerbated by overwhelming corruption and kleptocracy. There's been no looting, no shootings, just people working hard to rebuild their lives. Plus, of course, they can't blame Bush, so there's no interest in covering the disaster.

Paul Farhi: No dependence on government? Really? Who's clearing the roads, mopping up and generally putting things back in order? To whom did 17,000 people apply for disaster relief? Please stop the needless bashing of government. It has flaws, to be sure, but we all need it, for lots and lots of things.

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Betty White, KenCen Honor: Much as I love Betty White, much as she is a good actress, and showed how a professional comic actor should be on SNL (unlike more famous people, who mess up their monologues, have terrible comedic timing, stare at the Teleprompter), she is not unique or at the pinnacle of great TV actresses. Really, she is a professional of the old school, who is being appreciated because she is older and still very skilled at acting. Just as Regis Philbin has always been very good as a TV host and now at a somewhat advanced age has found national fame. But they were not groundbreaking standouts through their entire lives, only now because of age and a lack of younger true professionals now. The Kennedy Center Honors are for people who broke the mold young, and continued to do so for decades.Even as I write this, I am starting to change my mind and think, Betty White did the reverse: she was a very good TV supporting character for decades and broke the mold on great professionalism later on in life. Okay, give her a KC Honor! And dedicate it to her late husband, one of the best Quiz show hosts, Allen Ludden.

Paul Farhi: And much of the celebration of her now is because of her longevity. Which is fine, but not sure it fits the KenCen honors mold, as you point out.

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Eye of the beholder: Maybe this is why people always say SNL isn't funny -- because the skits hit people so differently. I thought the NPR was hilarious and the Little Women one was stupid. So I guess there was something for everyone!

Paul Farhi: We've been quoting back the Little Women line ("Because she's a lesbian!") for a couple of days now. Not so much on "Delicious Dish," which peaked back in the "Schweddy Balls" era.

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Nashville Floods: Well, bad as they were, they were hardly on the scale of the Katrina flooding. After all, even though Opryland was flooded, the original Opry home (Ryman Auditorium) wasn't, and neither was the district that is home to the recording studios and music publishers, the Tennessee Titans stadium, Vanderbilt, etc., and other landmarks with which a national audience can identify.

Paul Farhi: Yeah, it helps (media-wise) to have your most famous landmarks take a hit. Although the French Quarter really didn't get it too badly during Katrina. On the other hand, the Superdome DID become the symbol of National Shame.

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"But what do the Liberal Democrats want?" : More NPR funding, of course!Sorry, 'twas just too easy...

Paul Farhi: Umm, wouldn't they want more BBC funding?

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re: Betty White: Do you think she understood the naughty vernacular on the cue cards or just went with it? I think she'd be shocked if she took the transcripts and looked up those muffin terms on urbandictionary.

Paul Farhi: I thought about that, too. But she was delivering those lines in such a convincing manner, with such a wink, that I've got to believe she knew whereof she spoke. Which is something I really don't want to think too much about.

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re: Nashville "man on the street": Duh, that's what hip waders and boats are for! That's even more dramatic than just standing on the street.

Paul Farhi: Those things are always kind of funny to me; it's the solemnity and serious tone of the reporters that really does deserve a good comeuppance, or at least makes it funny when the inevitable happens.

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RE: "dependence on government": Talking about before the rain. Nashville's more of a private-sector, generally functioning kind of place than N.O.

Paul Farhi: I don't know how you measure such things, exactly, but if you say so I'll take your word for it.

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Crises on TV: Maybe the biggest one isn't the mining dasaster, the Nashville floods, the Mississippi tornadoes, the Gulf oil spill, the Oklahoma City tornadoes, etc., but the near-collapse of the Greek economy, the fall of the Euro, the soaring U.S. debt, and the plunge of the N.Y. stock market. If those last four related crises really trigger, the effects could be profound for decades. But how television-worthy are they? There's no good "film at eleven" showing anything dramatic, unless Athens starts to riot.

Paul Farhi: So true. TVhas a terrible time trying to cover any economic story. They really haven't been able to figure out anything more than showing the Dow's closing number Chyron'ed over a shot of the bell ringing at the end of trading on the NYSE floor. Currency fluctuations? Forget it....

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Nashville & Lena: I'm sure Twitter was a great place for news of Nashville. Ben Folds lives there and was tweeting pics and info about the situation and what he'd lost that was in a flooded storage unit (2 pianos, old board tapes)Also, I'm 28 and knew who Lena Horne was, I just had no idea she was black.

Paul Farhi: a small place. Maybe I'm old school, but it's not really a big story until the MSM are crawling all over it....And you didn't know Lena Horne was black? I guess that's possible, but not entirely sure HOW it's possible.

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British elections again: I too find the "coverage" lacking. You'd think this has some import, but wouldn't know it from what's available. "Idiots" like us should demand answers. How do I tell the WP that I want an in-depth story/analysis? Signed: Voice in wilderness.

Paul Farhi: You know, I may have said this before, but the Post may be the most self-critical business in America. We publish criticism of ourselves every day. We devote an entire page to highlighting our faults on Saturdays. And we have a fulltime employee to tell us (and you) what we're doing wrong.

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Betty White : When you said Betty White "transcended the material" you said it all. The fact that SNL alumni returned for the privilege of working with a comedic genius attests to her skill at intelligent silliness. I loved every minute she was on screen because she carried that show like no one has in decades. Jay-Z and co.'s tribute song at the end attests to the cross-generational love that landed her on SNL in the first place. I truly hope we get more from Ms. White and her peers to illuminate the genre.

Paul Farhi: Yes, and I think the presence of Poehler, Fey, Gasteyer, Shannon and Rudolph really helped things. She was the beneficiary of some of the best characters and skits of the past decade. Not all of it worked ("Pretty Living," for example), but I would ask what the alternative were. In other words, it worked well enough.

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And, yes, "MacGruber" was tolerable....: When are you going to just admit you like it?

Paul Farhi: I'm sticking with "tolerable." The rest of you go see the movie and let me know if I should blow $10 on it. I'll wait right here.

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Nashville vs. New Orleans: "Nashville hasn't been plagued by a dependence on government, exacerbated by overwhelming corruption and kleptocracy."I think the poster was referring to conditions prior to the disaster, which is a very true statement. Move this disaster 160 miles west to Memphis, and you have a completely different story and coverage. There's no media interest when 1 million hard working middle-class people get flooded out, but do the same to the uber-poor, homeless, and unemployed, then you've got a story that sells papers.

Paul Farhi: Interesting. Hadn't considered the class implications here, if any. My first instinct is to ask, "Is everyone in Nashville middle class?" I doubt that, so your premise seems flawed. There had to be plenty of poor people affected by the flood. If that's true, we're back to Square One in our analysis of why the press ignored the story.

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Nashville: Isn't this snarkiness about coverage not comparing to Katrina because people can't blame Bush a little too much? I was in an earthquake a few weeks ago but ...it happened it was over and really not a big deal because nobody was hurt. Of course the flooding in Nashville is a big deal but people blaming everyone isn't a good way to help the city.

Paul Farhi: Wait. I don't get this. Are you saying that Obama is beyond criticism for his action (or non-actions)? I hadn't noticed that, if so...

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Betty White: Of course she got it! She's always been a little racy - it plays against her sweet look (at any age). She would "shock" Carson. Anf, of course, that's why Sue Ann Nivens worked so well.

Paul Farhi: It's a great angle, and she may be the best at it.

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Nashville: Contrary to the previous poster, LP Field (home to the Titans) was reported to be under 10+ feet of water, and the field will need to be replaced along with a number of field-level ammenities (press rooms, locker rooms, service rooms, etc...). There were a number of "landmarks" that could have been used by national media to help the story relate to the whole country. However, there's no interest in a story where people of middle-class backrounds face a disaster with a strong will and work together as a community to rebuild. Stories about the helpless, disenfranchised, discriminated, and those mistreated by the government are what the media thinks the country wants to see.

Paul Farhi: Okay, hold on now. Anyone remember the wildfires in San Diego a couple of years ago? Lots of coverage (TV loves a fire), and mostly middle- and upper-class victims. There's no consistent class bias in natural disaster coverage.

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Dear Undefined: Betty White knew about muffins before most of us were half-baked.She was chasing Lou on Mary Tyler Moore's set for years.

Paul Farhi: Yes, she did have some naughty lines back then (at least naughty for 1973).

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Floods: Another factor is that Nashville's economy is not significantly affected by flooding. Sure, there will be a tourism hit, but the health care, publishing, music, and automobile sectors aren't significantly hurt by floods. In New Orleans, tourism and shipping are more prominent (and New Orleans is really a hurricane story, not a flooding story); the Midwest floods of the past century are newsworthy because of their relationship to agriculture and agribusiness. The Nashville floods don't constitute a significant disruption to commerce. And that's what the MSM cares about!

Paul Farhi: I think you're giving the MSM too much credit here. No one sits around a newsroom and bases coverage decisions on the complex interplay of regional economic variable. We just want to know how much damage there is and how many victims.

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Betty White: Her recurring guest character on St. Elsewhere was brilliant -- the tough as nails government liaison during a presidential trip where hospital space had to be reserved in case of emergency- - and one of the patients thought he was Mary Tyler Moore, and kept calling out to her, "Sue Ann, Sue Ann! "

Paul Farhi: Missed that! Pretty witty inside-baseball (or inside-TV history) writing there.

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Betty White: She knew exactly what she was saying. Part of her schtick now that she's older is using blue humor. I recall a roast she gave a while ago which was apparently rather explicit.

Paul Farhi: Yes, the roasts! She practically made a second (or third or fourth) career out of those. Sure. Good point.

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Writing from Nashville: Here in Nashville, we've wondered why the flood wasn't a bigger story. We've been too busy to watch TV but its lackluster coverage has been a topic of conversation. Some of our neighborhoods have been as affected as those in New Orleans during Katrina, although admittedly our total scale is smaller. I wonder if a "Nashville equals country music" theme has contributed to this; many of the news stories I've seen do stress the flood's effect on country-music-related buildings and tourism. Frankly, this drives me crazy. If the media would skip the stories about guitars and the Opry and tourism, they could report on a huge tragedy that has killed people, rendered much of a city homeless (temporarily we hope) and removed/interrupted the livelihoods for many. Most people whose homes were destroyed or damaged did not have flood insurance and are struggling to try to rebuild. I know the media loves its "narratives" and there are plenty here: the parents still searching for their 18-year-old son, the families who have lost everything (that phrase is used over and over), the volunteers who have rallied, the simple challenges of trying to launder flooded clothes during a time of water conservation and closed laundromats. I hope people will look past the city's one-note label and try to help in some way, whether through the Red Cross or perhaps through fundraisers or concerts -- one place where country music will play an appropriate role.

Paul Farhi: Well said, Nashville! I have nothing to add except "Godspeed to you all."

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Lena Horne: I remember her on The Cosby Show in the 80s. I think (but am not positive) that she sang too.

Paul Farhi: Yes, she played herself on an episode (maybe more than one). Which was a very nice thing-- Cosby was honoring someone who helped make it possible for him to be who he was.

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re urbandictionary: Please, give her some credit. I realize that we younger generations (I'm just under 40) like to think we invented raunch, but we're wrong. My mother (in her late 60s) knows this stuff. I don't think it's such a stretch to think that quite a few 80-somethings do too.

Paul Farhi: As filthy as anything you'd hear these days. I assume it's accurate. My shock, I think, is that you rarely hear any of that on any depictions of World War II. But those young guys were like young guys today. And now THOSE young guys are old men, so it's no stretch to believe that 80-plus year olds can talk that way.

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Natural disasters: We're coming up (May 22) of the 50th anniversary of the strongest earthquake ever recorded, a magnitude 9.5 quake in Chile. It was so powerful that the tsunami killed people in Japan. If something happened now, how extensively would it be reported? After all, Chile is pretty remote, compared to much smaller disasters that American television considers "important" because Americans are affected. Would much be reported about that quake now, other than the (extensive) destruction and fatalities that the tsunami caused in Hawaii?

Paul Farhi: Well, let me stop here and say our expectations (for coverage) are much, much higher than they've ever been. I wonder how much coverage that quake got back in 1960. Some obviously, but I bet we would do far more today. The technology is far better, our speed of communications is a zillion times better. All of which makes the limited coverage of Nashville so puzzling. It WASN'T about technology.

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Rhode Island: Hey! Did anybody know about massive floods in Rhode Island last month? I just read a report in an old issue of the Economist. Said it was pretty bad.

Paul Farhi: Oh, yeah. I think I heard about that. Any landmarks or celebrities involved?

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Here's the Difference: Recent floods in Tennessee - 23 deaths. Hurricane Katrina - 1836 confirmed deaths. The stories aren't remotely close in magnitude.

Paul Farhi: Not sure we're trying to equate the two. The coverage of Katrina went on round-the-clock for more than a week. Which was appropriate, I think. No one thinks the Tennessee floods are that big of a story. But they're something. All I'm arguing is that they deserved more.

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Presidential Flyover: I guess the biggest question is why the press has not pushed the administration for a reason why a flyover was done of the Gulf, but not of Nashville. A simple "The president has other matters to attend to" would have been sufficient, but perhaps there are too many people out there that are afraid of what the administration would actually say. Really, why has this question not been asked, or if it has been asked, why has the administration's response not been published?

Paul Farhi:

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Nashville Flood: I think the poster from Nashville hit the nail on the head -- I think this all has to do with the lack of drama from a flood; tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc., all have a more dramatic "perception" than -- "It rained hard, and some places flooded" - Being from Houston, and without electricity for 5 days after Ike hit - Did we get a lot of national coverage then?

Paul Farhi: But what's striking how arbitrary the coverage decisions are. Right now, for example, the tornadoes in Oklahoma are getting quite a bit of attention in the media. So, why Oklahoma and tornadoes and not Tennessee and floods?

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MST reporting: Johnny Carson used to joke that the worst way to die would be in a plane crash with Frank Sinatra. Underneath the gigantic headlines blaring "Sinatra Killed!!!' would be a tiny subhead saying "Also 100 Others".

Paul Farhi: Yes, and that's part of the puzzle here. Bigger stories trump other, smaller stories. Of course, we're trying to define what constitutes a "bigger" story. There's no textbook. And there's also a lot of me-too-ism. Sometimes coverage begets more coverage. And sometimes (perhaps in this case), the opposite is true--i.e., the other guys aren't devoting much time or space to it, so why should we?

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The Airless Cubicle: We DO have a comparison to the 1960 Chilean earthquake and Pacific tsunami: the 2010 Chilean earthquake and Pacific tsunami. The coverage was there, waiting for the emergency. I saw it in real time. We were graced by God in not having a worse disaster happen. If the cameras are there and the editors are interested, it will be covered.

Paul Farhi: I gotta tell you, the cameras are everywhere these days. Or they can be gotten there within a few hours (Haiti, for example). It's the second factor--the willingness of editors--that's the more critical.

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White vs. Leachman: Betty White can get away (wink, wink) with all those naughty lines because she still looks like an angelic, cookie-baking grandma. If Cloris Leachman (about the same age) tried those same lines, she'd just sound sleazy. ( or ick nast as they say on the Liz Kelly Celebritology blog)

Paul Farhi: it is part of the comedy.

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Bad Radio Ads: Can I tell you what radio commercial I hate? The cellular phone ad about the guy who couldn't buy a tigerfish, since it would eat the angelfish, and couldn't buy an angelfish, because it would eat the clownfish, and couldn't buy a clownfish because (wait for it) he didn't want a clownfish. Well, duh, if he didn't want the clownfish, why doesn't he just go and buy the stupid angelfish, since there won't be any clownfish to worry about getting eaten? Plus, how does buying a cellphone solve this problem? Stupid, stupid commercial.

Paul Farhi: Apparently, the cellphone company (or its ad agency) is trying to sell phones based on the concept of "the food chain."

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Tornadoes: Are a lot more dramatic. It makes far better television to show an approaching funnel cloud, have people tell harrowing tales of cowering in the basement and hearing the inevitable "freight train", and finally showing slabs where house used to be, instead or reporting, "Yeah, it's really wet around here. Back to you in the studio, Lisa."

Paul Farhi: I think there's something to that. As I said earlier, TV loves a fire and will cover one (usually with a helicopter) even if the fire is isolated and makes no real difference to anyone. Earthquakes are good, too (real-time security cam footage, devastated buildings, etc.). Maybe floods just aren't high on the list.

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Nashville: But there was coverage of the flooding. Perhaps not as much as there might have been had not the Wall Streeet performance, BP oil spill, and possible financial failure of Greece (again!) also been going for much of the same time, but I saw it on a couple of local news programs, and I am sure it was recycled from the major network national news shows. I even sent some relatives living in the South an e-mail about it last week as i had seen it on the news.

Paul Farhi: There was some, yes. But it wasn't really all that timely. And it has disappeared entirely now.

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Nashville Floods: I think flooding news in general tends to fly under the radar because there is always flooding happening somewhere all throughout the year. Just last month parts of Rhode Island got severly flooded and people have already forgotten about it.

Paul Farhi: tend to occur in remote locations, away from human habitation).

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Dear Undefined: Having finally read and pondered your belated intro . . .You're right! The Twain award best suits Ms. White and would complete a circle of entertainers from early TV that is neglected. If I'm mistaken, please correct me, but I understand that the Twain award is bestowed upon those still alive. The Carlin tribute was posthumous as an exception because he died after the announcement. Thank goodness for exceptions! Still miss that man.

Paul Farhi: year's winner). So, yes, the recipient has to be alive and has to ACCEPT the award. That's a big deal--Cosby said he turned it down twice (before he accepted it) because he didn't like all the swearing by the comedians who were honoring the earlier recipients.

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RE: Cloris Leachman: Au contraire, previous poster. Ms. Leachman pulled off some incredibly hilarious, foul-mouthed material on the Bob Saget Roast on Comedy Central. And it wasn't any "sweet old grandma" stuff, but some really raunchy stuff. And she killed.

Paul Farhi: That's right. It was shocking, too. But I thought she didn't bring it off quite as well as Betty did, and does, for the reason the poster suggested (Cloris has never seemed as sweet as Betty).

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Nashville: There was actually a lot of real-time coverage on The Weather Channel. Perhaps that was partly because they still had crews in Mississippi covering the aftermath of the tornadoes that crossed the state. Reporter Jim Cantore's producer (sp.?) just moved everyone up to Nashville, I believe.

Paul Farhi: And the audience for it is very, very small. You can't build a national consensus about a calamity on the back of the Weather Channel (or any particular channel or news source) alone.

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It comes down to blame.: I think the difference in disaster coverage comes down to blame, as in can someone be blamed for causing the disaster or contributing to its destruction. In New Orleans, there was plenty of blame to go around. Stories about the conditions at the Superdome, horrid living conditions of the 9th Ward, the idling busses from Nagin, the FEMA trailers, Army Corp floodwalls, and the initially tepid Bush response. All of those stories pointed out man-made reasons for the severity of the disaster. In tornadoes, media always show pictures of trailer parks looking like a collection of broken popsicle sticks. In Nashville, there's really no angle that the media can take to blame anyone aside from mother nature. I'm sure someone out there has written about global warming and how manmade polution has caused the dramatic flooding in the central U.S., but there's no one person or central authority to blame for the disaster or the increased severity of the disaster. No blame=no story

Paul Farhi: Fascinating thought! But "the blame" is sometimes a function of the number of people assigned to cover the story. I recall that the TV anchors who rushed down to Haiti were screaming about the "slow" relief response just a few hours after the disaster. The blame didn't stick once the supplies started flowing, of course, but there's a media Heisinger Principle here--something observed changes as a result of being observed.

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Paul Farhi: Let's go to it again next week, same time, day and channel. Until then, stay dry. And as always, regards to all!....Paul.


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