More Sloppy Journalism About post-Quake/Tsunami Japan

D'oh! (again)


A couple months ago I took National Public Radio to task for some of its Amateur Hour reporting from Japan.  The famously dull-witted Fox News infamously reported that a Tokyo nightclub was, in fact, a nuclear power plant, a/k/a  The Great Shibuya Eggman Foul-up.

Here we go again.  This time it’s The Economist.

In sum, Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan has just survived a No-Confidence vote in the Japanese Parliament (or Diet).  The article linked-to in the preceding sentence is from The Guardian and offers a good summation of the, shall we say, less-than-optimal political  situation in Japan.

Then there’s The Economist piece, written by “H.T.” (that’s how the author’s identified, just “H.T.”).  While much, even most, of the “political intrigue” seems factually on-point, H.T. throws out a couple of howlers that typify today’s penchant for half-baked journalism, such as it is.

I always roll my eyes at writers (who are, what? 19 years old?) who proclaim the Tohoku quake/tsunami “an unprecedented disaster,” as H.T. so proclaimed in his or her piece in The Economist.  Yes, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant maelstrom was, for Japan, “unprecedented,” but the writer doesn’t distinguish Fukushima Daiichi (where no one’s died, yet) from the other events of March 11, 2011.  Rather, H.T. seems to be blissfully unaware of the past 90 years of Japanese history, including the Great Kanto Quake/Fire of 1923 (90,000+ fatalities), Hiroshima (70,000-80,000 immediate deaths), Nagasaki (40,000-75,000 immediate deaths) and the fire-bombings of Tokyo, Osaka and every major industrial center/city in 1945.

Hiroshima. After the bomb. 1945.

Not to diminish the scale of the destruction or the daunting challenge of rebuilding the Tohoku Coastline, but, c’mon, dealing with wrenching disasters (whether natural or man-made) is not exactly “unprecedented” in Japan.  Had H.T. merely written, “unprecedented in contemporary Japan” they would have been accurate.  My point is that bloomers like that undermine the credibility of any further analysis. And this is The Economist, which should hold itself to a standard somewhat higher than CNN or, gad, Fox News.

Then, at the very end of the article, and with utter Fox-like Drama, H.T. declares that Japan has not emerged “stronger” following the quake, tying JAPAN in with the fortunes of one, single, political leader.  At this writing it has not yet been 90 days since the shocking and tragic events of March 11.  And virtually everyone (except maybe The Economist?) concedes that the rebuilding effort will take years — 5-10, and scars will forever remain.  But The Economist has already declared  “Game Over”  for Japan. How sloppy.  How lazy.

Will the last competent journalist please turn out the light as you leave the room?

.         .         .

Post Script:  While we’re at it, let’s give “Dishonorable Mention” to this June 2 article (from “Yahoo Finance” and written by one Al Lewis) regarding an Idaho home, foreclosed upon and, interestingly, infested with garter snakes.  In speculating on who might be interested in occupying such a home, now owned by the mortgage division of J.P. Morgan Chase, Mr. Lewis wonders aloud:

“Possible buyers might include some guy with a flute and a turban…”

I can hardly wait for Mr. Lewis’ next piece on the Japanese stock market, you know, that’s run by buck-toothed men, sporting thick, round glasses, all named “Tojo.”  Or Mr. Lewis’ upcoming articles on “lazy blacks,” “Mexican banditos,” “stupid Pollocks,” “drunk Irishmen,” or “greedy Jews.” 


    • Mark Brafford
    • June 2nd, 2011

    Unfortunately with the decline of print media and its advertising, sloppy journalism will be increasing. A poor story will survive on the internet and and upset advertiser or public no longer control the news or quality of the piece. When I say control the news I mean assure its accuracy and remove the bias. Now every story seems to cater to one group while ignoring the other, and while a blogger may be hailed for a breaking story on Monday, he is driven largely by his opinion as to where the story goes, and when it is grabbed up by another network or writer it may be twisted and turned until it becomes unrecognizable. Dooms sells, and even the most beautiful of sunsets becomes a photo in someones skin cancer article. Japan will be alright, and in the end learn from all of this calamity. Rome was not built in a day, but had this writer been around, well it likely never would have been built at all.

      • letsjapan
      • June 2nd, 2011

      Well put, Mark. Thus it seems you have little future in journalism.

      What’s so mystifying is that this Economist article would not have been all bad hat “H.T.” simply held back on their unneeded flourishes (or taken a couple extra moments to consider how stupid they were). The writer didn’t need to opine about whether the March 11 disaster was — or wasn’t — “unprecedented.” The writer didn’t need to opine regarding whether — or not — Japan would, or had, emerged “stronger” from the events of that fateful date. The article would’ve been just ducky without such embellishments, but like a child showing off to mommy his new-found ability to ride a bike, H.T. couldn’t leave well enough alone; he had to show that he could do it with “no hands,” too. And, like many an overconfident child, H.T. wobbled, lost control and took a spill.


  1. Brilliant! Well written. Thanks for the breath of fresh air….

    • Mark Brafford
    • June 2nd, 2011

    I sometimes question if there are editors and fact checkers in 2011. Seems like free range journalism. Free range means no fences or boundaries right? Like with cows, pigs and chickens.

    Just the facts mam.

    • letsjapan
    • June 2nd, 2011

    Thanks, Mike. I wish such idiocy wasn’t so often perpetrated so that we wouldn’t *have* to do write-ups like this!

    Mark, that’s a point I neglected to make, indeed. I mean, did no one, no copy editor or other editor, bother to read this first? And if they did, it passed their “critical” eye, too???

    • Mark Brafford
    • June 2nd, 2011

    I’m in Japan, so maybe I have missed some TV shows. Are there any shows where the theme is a centered around a reporter. Remember all the shows that used to have the newsroom, even Spiderman, Superman, Mary Tyler Moore (TV) Ed Asner. Now, I wonder if there would be a cast. Seems most stories feel lone wolf to me, the good and the bad. How many hands and eyes do the stories go through these days.

    • letsjapan
    • June 2nd, 2011

    Mark, it’s been a year since I had television oozing into my home. I have a television and enjoy vid almost every night, but not “tv.” But I don’t think so. Journalism as a profession is pretty much dead, it seems. Except for broadcast journalism. I have several friends who are journalists with skill and integrity. Very few are employed in that field, though.

  2. The Economist now has an article about “Japan and sex” that is illustrated with a woman dressed in a Chinese qipao. Ah well. They all look the same, don’t they? Here’s the URL:

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