Before August 1, Minneapolis was the upper Midwest's hidden secret. It was a city that earned attention; Minneapolis didn't generate it. It was a city that no one outside of Minneapolis seemed to know, but couldn't forget after visiting. It was a city where I could drive a golf ball from the tallest building downtown and hit a cornstalk before the ground. It was a city that took care of itself. Minneapolis was a warm fuzzy. I live in Minneapolis.
But now, Minneapolis has joined the list of locales that are home to disastrous events. The I-35W bridge collapse planted Minneapolis under the world's media microscope. Every news source has a hotel room or campsite near the collapse, and they are competing for the eyes and ears of the world.
I now have the first person experience of media sensationlism.
So staggering that Minnesotans have been shaking their heads at the superlatives the collective media has thrown out there. I wasn't sure if I was watching coverage of a disaster or a movie review. As the news of the collapse unfolded and expanded, so too did the number of adverbs that ended in "-ingly."
Disasters of any magnitude are awful. Death aint funny. And one death is too many. And nothing I can write or say will ever equal the emotional rollercoaster that friends and families of victims will ride. But those who take the opportunity to speak to the masses apparently lose all comprehension of context.
This is an indictment of those who lose perspective on the magnitude of events that happen every day all over the world, and those who take advantage of events for their own (or their company's) benefit.
Showing up on the scene, our own Governor Tim Pawlenty said, "Obviously this is a catastrophe of historic proportions."
This is not a "catastrophe of historic proportions." 9/11 was a catastrophe of historic proportions. In five years, no one outside of Minneapolis will dedicate air time to "8/1." This is a disaster, a huge disaster at that. But as of this writing, only five people have been reported dead with eight people still missing. This wasn't an earthquake that took thousands of lives, or a tsunami that swallowed countless people. This wasn't a hurricane that wiped out an entire city. This was hardly a catastrophe.
Brian Williams, the NBC anchor, said Minneapolis is a city turned "upside down."
Seeing the treatment by the press, one can conclude that they were waiting for the one cause of the collapse that eluded them: Terrorism. Had this been an act of terrorism, every outlet would have their soundbites and profound observations in the can.
How sexy would, "...catastrophe of historic proportions" have sounded? Dead sexy, baby. How clairvoyant would Brian Williams be? Because had this been an act of terrorism, I have no doubt this city would have absolutely flipped.
But it wasn't. It was some boring reason, like deficient structural load, or old age, or some mundane reason that only bridge-building Ph.D.s are wetting their pants over right now. It wasn't any reason that would justify the hyperbole spewed by the media. Sorry, false alarm.
But it gets better. Friday, the First Lady, Laura Bush, arrived to view the wreckage. Why the hell did she bother to come? What's she going to do about it? Did she come here to tell us that her husband was on the way?
Maybe she did. Saturday, President Bush decided to show up. How thoughtful of him to take time out of his busy schedule to view the site three days after the incident. Of course, once someone whispered into his ear that it wasn't a terrorist attack, he probably felt much better and decided to get here when he had the chance.
Since we're in a presidential race, why not throw a candidate into the mix? Saturday, John McCain, trying to win the Republican nomination, blamed congress for not providing billions of dollars toward transportation needs. "We spent approximately $20 billion of that money on pork barrel, earmark projects," said McCain. "Maybe if we had done it right, maybe some of that money would have gone to inspect those bridges and other bridges around the country. Maybe the 200,000 people who cross that bridge every day would have been safer than spending $233 million of your tax dollars on a bridge in Alaska to an island with 50 people on it." Okay, so let me ask this, Senator: Would any of that money reached Minneapolis in time to fix the bridge? If not, how long would you have waited after the collapse to complain about the red tape?
I'm sure Senator McCain won't be the only candidate we hear from.
By Saturday night, Barry Bonds hit not only the 755th home run of his career, tying Hank Aaron, but he also hit the nail in the coffin for the bridge story's three-day run on the front page. Based on the media's track record of sensationalism and short attention spans, it's easy to shift gears when there's no terrorism involved. And really, is there anything more important going on right now than a man hitting a home run? Apparently not.
We are all exhausted from the conflict in Iraq. But lack of a compelling story doesn't excuse anyone from the overblown hype this story received. Minnesota's football team isn't good enough to get away with love boats or dog fights. We can't buy booze on Sundays, so if you need a place to send Lindsay Lohan, she would have one less day during the week to drink.
But judging by the attention this event generated, most news outlets are in full "one-upmanship" mode. It's not a matter of scoop, it's a matter of scope. It doesn't matter any longer that any journalist was first on the scene. It's not a matter of proper perspective. It's a matter of finding someone who can provide insight, someone who can take us through the event nanosecond by nanosecond; someone who has a sister-in-law whose boss knows the driver of a limousine owned by a guy who nearly walked past a lady who frequents a knitting shop just on the other side of the river who saw it on the news as it unfolded and just had to run down and see for herself.
My family and I received a lot of phone calls from family and friends hoping we were safe, and I am truly flattered. But I wonder how urgent those phone calls would have been had this been treated like what it really was: A very big deal, but not a catastrophe.
I'm sad for the audience of caring people who are fed this sensationalist crap by starving journalists and politicians who can't do any better than jump on a tragedy to get some ink.
I'm sad for Minneapolis, a terrific city with black eye.
I'm most sad for the families and friends of the victims. Besides having their loved ones back, they probably want the one thing the media won't allow. They want this story to go away. Fast.