A Warning about Unreliable News, or Why Your Parents Are Scared

A word from your editor:

My father sent me this CNN article about how the Japanese people appear to be completely calm in the face of this tragedy. The current media brouhaha back home took me on a trip down memory lane, back to my Advanced Placement European History class in high school. On the AP test, which many American high school students take to qualify for college credits, there is an essay called the DBQ, or the document-based question, where the student is presented with a number of quotes, statistics, or testimony from a variety of sources and asked to write his/her analysis of the situation based on the sources.  This exercise teaches students to critically examine the reliability of sources and the way information is framed.

With this in mind, the US media, as well as the media of many other Western nations, is sensationalizing the situation (whether on purpose or not) by presenting the news in two ways.

1. Conflating affected areas with the whole of Japan.

2. Lumping together information in confusing, awkward ways.

How can you sort out the news?

1. Use reliable news sources. (Edit: A better example of an unreliable source than the Shibuya Eggman Incident is an unfounded Internet rumor that Snopes has thankfully put to rest.) A good, reliable source for your loved ones at home regarding the status of JETs is National AJET, which also has an extensive list of recommended news resources across the globe.

2. Read carefully. Headlines often present the situation as “in Japan,” whereas the article will more specifically say “in Sendai,” “in Miyagi,” “in Fukushima.” For example,  Kyung Lah (CNN) writes in “Amid Disaster, Japan’s Societal Mores Remain Strong,” “Food and water are both scarce. Electricity in the tsunami zone is nearly nonexistent. Survivors have lacked information about their missing loved ones.”

Food and water are scarce in Miyagi and other areas affected by the earthquakes and tsunami. Lah isn’t obfuscating information, but you really have to keep reading beyond that first sentence to understand that the article refers to the hardest hit areas, not to the whole of the nation.

Or, from Reuter’s “SNAPSHOT: Japan’s Nuclear Crisis”–the article has solid information about Fukushima‘s nuclear issues and what is being done to fix the reactors, but the headline may sound like all of Japan is having a crisis. Don’t just read the headlines–read the whole article!

3. Track down the source. Regarding the evacuations  and the flooding of the Tokyo immigration office with expats seeking re-entry permits (see The Japan Times and Japan Today), many news sources have cited a “US Government suggestion” to evacuate Japan.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time digging last night and was able to trace the suggestion back to a press release of the Nuclear Regulation Commission. Regarding evacuations: the US government is recommending that people within 80 km (50 miles) of the Fukushima reactors evacuate the area. (See NRC: Doc. 11-050.)

The government is also offering support to Americans working at all of the government sites (embassies, etc.) in Japan who wish to  evacuate voluntarily. (Embassy of the US in Japan, Tokyo Press Release.) Three things are lumped into this release: the Fukushima evacuations from the areas near the nuclear plants; the government’s offer to evacuate government employees and their families who wish to leave; and the work to evacuate people living in the areas hit by the earthquake and tsunami (Tohoku region), many of whom have lost homes and property or are experiencing shortages of fuel and heat (CNN).

Please be a voice of reason in a time of crisis. You need to take a stand and provide your loved ones with accurate information. Do not panic. Do not spread rumors or sensationalized information. Always cite your sources. Other than donating our money and time to relief efforts, the best thing we can do right now is disseminate information from reliable sources.

Leah Zoller is a second-year CIR in Anamizu and the editor of this blog. To Mr. Nick Douglass of Anderson High School and any teacher who has ever prepped students for the DBQ: Thank you.

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