NYT Quake Reporter: Don’t Worry, Be Happy

The New York Times‘ Katharine Seelye begins her report (8/24/11) on yesterday’s Virginia-centered earthquake with a dangerous inaccuracy:

Of all the things there are to worry about, earthquakes are fairly low on the list for those on the East Coast.

Actually, people on the East Coast should probably worry about earthquakes a lot more than they do. A study done of potential quake hazards faced by various cities placed Boston at slightly more risk than San Francisco (Wired Science, 8/23/11)–because the latter city, while more seismically active, is also better prepared.

In New York City, where Seelye’s main audience resides, “a pattern of subtle but active faults makes the risk of earthquakes to the New York City area substantially greater than formerly believed,” as Columbia University’s Earth Institute (8/21/08) summarized a paper in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.A magnitude 6 quake, just slightly bigger than the one that hit Virginia, occurring near New York City is projected to kill more than a thousand people and do $40 billion in damage.

Seelye, assigned to cover the quake for New York City’s most powerful news outlet, could have used the opportunity to point out how the city could be better prepared for seismic disaster. Instead, she chose to write a jokey piece that gave no indication that earthquakes could pose a real threat to her readers.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.