Last week, a Harvard study was published that estimated the death toll in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria at nearly 5,000. At the time of the study’s publication, the official government tally sat at 64. Since then, however, the Puerto Rico Department of Health released data that shows there were at least 1,400 deaths related to the devastating storm.
With hurricane season upon us and this new information revealing that Maria was far more deadly than 2005’s Hurricane Katrina — something that forever marred and stained the Bush Administration — one would think the revelation that thousands of Americans were killed in what now appears to be one of the worst natural disasters in this country’s history would at least warrant some discussion on the most influential mainstream news programs. You would think.
During this past Sunday”s five major news talk shows — CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, Fox News Sunday, ABC’s This Week, CNN’s State of the Union — not one mention was made of Puerto Rico. Not one. Mind you, we’re not talking about interviews or segments specifically devoted to the topic. The very words “Puerto Rico” never made it on the lips of anyone on these five shows, per a TVEyes search of all five programs’ transcripts.
And it wasn’t like cable news was all over the topic on Sunday, or for that point, in the days since the study was released. A TVEyes transcript search for Sunday shows CNN mentioned Puerto Rico nine times on Sunday, MSNBC 14 times, and there were no hits for Puerto Rico on Fox News. One of the handful of Sunday news programs where the topic was discussed, CNN media analysis show Reliable Sources, framed the conversation within the context of the media’s failure to cover the issue.
CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter asked the Reliable Sources panel why the death toll revelation got overshadowed by the controversy over comedian Roseanne Barr’s racist tweets. (Liberal media watchdog Media Matters found cable news devoted 10 hours of coverage to Roseanne last Tuesday/Wednesday morning compared to just 30 minutes on Puerto Rico.) It was suggested that the Roseanne scandal was an easy subject to cover and that we have a sick addiction to celebrities.
One thing Stelter said during that segment was that he wished President Donald Trump would tweet about the situation. Nearly a week after the study came out, and days after Puerto Rico updated the official death count, the president has remained silent about the whole thing, instead focusing his attention on claiming he can pardon himself and telling the country trade wars are good.
The White House, meanwhile, reacted by defending FEMA and the federal government’s response, basically giving itself a pat on the back for only allowing a few thousand people to die. Of course, this is the tone set by the president early on in the wake of the horrific storm.
Who can forget Trump favorably comparing Maria to “real catastrophe” Katrina, telling the Puerto Rican governor he should be “very proud” of the death toll? (Katrina’s casualties totaled 1,833.) Or the president giving himself a “10” when asked to grade the government’s response to the hurricane? And let’s not even mention the paper towel tosses, okay?
The fact of the matter is that the mainstream media has dropped the ball on Puerto Rico from the very beginning. Even though it was obvious from the start that this was a massive tragedy the3 likes we’ve rarely seen, the corporate press as a whole found itself distracted by other matters early on. And now that we know the full brunt of the devastation in Puerto Rico, the media response is one big yawn.