In an AP story by Eric Talmadge and Mari Yamaguchi, “Japanese choppers dump water on stricken reactor”, the second paragraph starts with
This “reporting” by Talmadge and Yamaguchi is a perfect example of the wild sensationalism I've seen in the US media about the situation in Japan. The depth and breadth of the destruction can't possibly be sensationalized because it's already unimaginable, but everything else seems to be looked at in the US press in the most exaggerated, dire way possible.
In what world is dropping water with fire-fighting equipment a “combat-style mission” rather than a “firefighting-style mission”? In a world where you want to twist reality for maximum dramatic effect. In what world is “batch after batch” a reasonable reference to “four loads of water over the course of ten minutes”? The same.
Time and again I see article and photos that try to fan the flames of panic, showing photos of empty store shelves and gas-mask wearing workers as if that's a common sight around Japan. As far as I can tell from the domestic news, the gas-mask wearing workers are only in areas associated with the reactors and gateway areas for evacuees. Empty store shelves are more common in the fringe of the areas of devastation, and likely in areas where a lot of people are traveling (in the same way that the convenience store near my place in Kyoto has its shelves stripped bare numerous times throughout the day on a weekend during cherry-blossom season).
For what it's worth, I've seen no effect of any of this here in Kyoto, and wouldn't even know about the earthquake and tsunami and reactor woes if it weren't for the news.
The article “Japan Earthquake and the Irresponsible Foreign Media” by Richard Graham says it well, after watching the events unfold in a horrific but orderly manner on domestic TV....
Another example is a video currently featured on the Y! Front Page about a pair of dogs in the rubble, behind a link “heartbreaking video”. The video shows a mud-caked scruffy dog walking to another dog that lies unmoving, as if dead or asleep. Eventually the unmoving dog moves and nuzzles with its mate; the reporter gushes about how happy he is that they're alive, that life endures even in these trying times. The video starts out sad to grab you, but turns into an uplifting video celebrating life, a bright spot in a vast expanse of blackness that this earthquake has been. With so many truly sad stories, why does the media feel the need to manufacture additional ones?
There's so much real news to be reported... the devastation is unimaginable. Suffering by the victims is ongoing and intense. Concern for the reactor situation is real (and faith in the government to handle it shrinking). There's plenty of real news, so why the sensationalism? I understand the media will always be a strong political agenda (one way or the other) whenever anything nuclear is involved, but again, there's so much real news to report that they don't need to sink to these tricks.
Update March 31: I found this Journalist Wall of Shame highlighting some of the more egregious examples of scaremongering.