If you turn on cable news these days, you might get scared. This is understandable because, according to pretty much everyone on television, America is on the brink of nuclear war.
The truth is more complicated, but the news media, cable news in particular, has been leaning into alarmist rhetoric. Networks have gone wall-to-wall with the story over the last 24 hours, playing it up for maximum drama and entertainment.
The situation is nuanced and rapidly changing, so naturally, CNN had a correspondent in an actual nuclear bunker Wednesday morning.
“The reason why this place is so important is this is where warning to all the Hawaiian islands will come from,” CNN’s Sara Sidner said. “See that phone there? That phone will get a phone call from pacific command once they determine that a missile is coming from North Korea headed this way. Then this phone will be picked up. This will send out a call to all of the counties simultaneously and they will warn their population that this is going to be an attack and to prepare.”
The entire report was framed as not if North Korea drops nuclear bombs on the United States but when. And while some fairly useful (if common sense) advice could be gleaned from the segment (have a plan in case of emergency), it was cloaked in such alarmist rhetoric that what useful information could have been conveyed was lost.
It’s worth noting that North Korea has had the ability to incinerate Seoul for years. The potential of this new threat is concerning, but North Korea has had the power to kill millions of people, including many Americans, for a long time.
Additionally, new reports about North Korea’s long-range nuclear ability comes from a single intelligence report, which have not proven to be infallible.
Trump’s own rhetoric has certainly been alarming, and Kim Jong-Un is a reclusive and unpredictable leader with little regard for whether his own people, not to mention Americans, live or die. His threats to strike a U.S. territory are absolutely newsworthy.
But so much of the coverage has stopped short of presenting readers or viewers with valuable information.
On MSNBC, Brian Williams led into his own show with shots of missiles underscored by ominous music.
“With U.S. intel saying the north can now outfit a missile with nukes, the president seems to use the same overheated language as the north as he now deals with a genuine overseas threat,” Williams says, as music only appropriate for a cinematic alien attack plays.
The hosts of Trump’s favorite morning television show were also quite literally on the edges of their seats Wednesday. National Security adviser (and alleged Nazi sympathizer) Sebastian Gorka joined Fox & Friends, where the hosts nodded eagerly as Gorka spouted strongman rhetoric.
“Should we be concerned about this?” host Ainsley Earhardt asked Gorka.
“North Korea represents a grave threat … [but] we are a hyper power,” Gorka said. “North Korea is a very, very insignificant threat in terms of scale. They have this capability that they are using to blackmail the west but you never give in to dictators and you never give in to blackmail.”
Every few seconds, as Gorka talks, the Fox & Friends co-hosts can be heard saying, “Right… right.”
On the same show, the hosts very casually discussed sending nuclear missiles to South Korea, completing some remarkable gymnastics of simultaneously over-reacting and under-reacting to the developing situation.
Just the president's favorite show casually discussing deploying nuclear missiles to South Korea, no big deal. pic.twitter.com/NjIaJrqwgF
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) August 9, 2017
As CNN’s Alisyn Camerota put it after Sidner finished her bunker tour, “Okay, well, that puts a fine point on it.”