Talk about bad timing. And bad location.
Someone could write a good country song — or even a bad one — about the great Nashville, Tenn., flood of 2010.
I’m sure you heard about it, assuming you didn’t take a quick restroom break and miss the full report on the news. If you somehow didn’t hear about it, the latest issue of Time carries an in-depth one-paragraph report. In a nutshell, a major American city suffered a tremendous natural disaster: $1.5 billion or more in damages, thousands of homes destroyed, two dozen or more lives lost.
But Music City chose the same weekend as a major oil spill and a failed terrorist attack to endure this fate. Call it bad timing. Worse, the city sometimes referred to as the buckle of the Bible Belt staged its disaster in flyover country. Call it bad location.
However, there’s another major, perhaps bigger factor involved here. Politics. More precisely, the lack of politics to drive the story and media interest.
Newsweek weighed in with this analysis of why the media ignored Nashville. A friend of mine, Brent High, wrote this. Local blogger Patten Fuqua penned this. And here is what The Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz said in response to a question earlier this week:
Q. There’s a lot of anger in Nashville from people who are convinced that the national media ignored that city’s flood and much of west Tennessee. What about it — do they have a valid point?
A. They have a completely valid point. With a few exceptions — CNN’s Anderson Cooper went there late last week — the devastating Nashville flooding was a blip on the national radar. It was, to be sure, overshadowed by the Times Square attempted bombing and the Gulf oil spill. But I also believe that because there was no political component, no one to blame, it didn’t interest the pundits much because there was nothing to argue about.
Nashville also seems to have hurt itself (in terms of media coverage) by not screwing up the disaster response. Besides the city government, Red Cross and community groups, the relief effort involves thousands of volunteers organized by churches.
Bob Smietana, GetReligion reader and Tennessean religion writer extraordinaire, shares these insights:
There’s a real sense of neighbors helping neighbors and a can-do spirit. A lot of the work has been organized by Twitter and Facebook and other social media.
Also — unless you are here, you can’t appreciate scope of the flood. So far 18,000 people have applied for FEMA relief to repair their homes — a striking number. It’s all over Nashville — from the wealthy Bellevue community to the impoverished Bordeaux community north of downtown to immigrant communities in Antioch to rural Hickman County. Unless you get your feet on the ground and into neighborhoods, you don’t get a feel for the enormity of the disaster.
The flood happened unexpectedly as well — we were supposed to get a few inches of rain and got 20 in two days. But there was no dramatic buildup — like during Katrina, or during floods in the Midwest, where the rivers rose slowly and there was time to repair. It’s a massive disaster that came literally from nowhere.
But what the story lacks is a real news peg. No, flooded homes won’t work. Neither will a herculean relief effort. What we need here are some Nashville leaders willing to step up and argue. Loudly. On TV. Give the media something worth reporting.
If the Southern Baptist Convention can’t stage a made-for-prime-time debate between fundamentalists and liberals, perhaps native son Al Gore could step in and blame the flooding on global warming — or better yet, find a reason to criticize Washington’s role in the disaster response. As a last resort, maybe Sarah Palin could bring a Flood-the-Town-with-Tea-Party event to Nashville to raise awareness and drum up media interest. Whatever it takes.
Because right now, the only story here is a devastated community and thousands of lives forever changed. Yawn.