Well, the earthquakes didn't arrive as scheduled, and even their prophet -- radio minister Harold Camping -- admitted last night that he was in error. For me, there's a remaining question:
Were we sharks or lemmings?
Did we thrash around in full feeding frenzy? Or did we follow the pack over a cliff?
Simply put, I did not see the "coverage" of the end times according to Camping as the news media's finest hour. Here was an obscure preacher, spouting predictions based on Bible interpretations that no other Christian leaders agreed with. And we took the bait.
The signs of feeding frenzy were on full display this past week:
- A glut of stories that seemed angled more toward beating the competition than serving readers. Endless repetition of the same basic story. How many times can we hear "rapture," "Judgment Day" and "earthquake"?
- Careless distortion. Even otherwise responsible media, like the
San FranciscoChronicle, said Saturday was supposed to be the end of the world. Camping actually said the day would bring earthquakes, but the planet would be destroyed on Oct. 21. (And last night, he stuck to the latter date.)
- Breathless addition of details, no matter how small. Camping had so few followers that many a story cited just one person. Or less.
Don’t we ever learn? We screamed our way through the 2007 death of
But before you fix a problem, you have to recognize it. In the 1990s I attended a National Writers Workshop that featured a panel discussion of tabloid editors. I used the Q&A to bring up feeding frenzies, using the O.J. coverage as an example. To my shock, every one of the panelists denied there had even been a feeding frenzy! Like denying you're an alcoholic just after a binge.