NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Why Do Kenny Chesney and Other Stars Have to Be Paul Reveres?

Alabama Tornado Disaster Relief Recalls Tennessee Floods as a National Media Non-Event

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

The tornado disaster relief telethon CMT is conducting and Taylor Swift’s relief fundraiser are perfect examples of the open hearts and desire to help that are second nature to most country artists.

Whether it’s the recent tornadoes or last year’s disastrous Nashville and Tennessee floods or Hurricane Katrina or any other disaster, country artists can be counted on to be there.

It’s just a shame these days that there are so many disasters and they keep coming thick and fast.

What I find perplexing though is the coverage of many of these disasters, especially in the South or in any other part of the flyover United States. In many cases, it amounts to no coverage.

On the first anniversary of Nashville’s and Tennessee’s flooding, a lot of people in Nashville still recall how it was completely ignored by the national media until several country stars started calling and tweeting Anderson Cooper about the crisis. He had no idea. The next day, Cooper was on the ground, reporting live from Nashville. In their defense, the media protested they had to cover the Times Square bomber and the ongoing BP oil spill. It’s a sad and inexplicable day when major media can’t manage to look beyond two stories.

Why does it take personal intervention by a star to point out what should be the obvious to everyone? Why did Nashville and Tennessee need to have Kenny Chesney and other prominent country artists feel forced to transform themselves into modern-day Paul Reveres?

There have been many theories advanced attempting to explain the lack of coverage. In the case of covering the BP spill and the Times Square bomber, the breaking aspect of each was essentially over by the time the flood was underway. Plus, there was no looting in Nashville. Just rising water. So there was no sexy footage. Plus, given the monomaniacal nature of media, both the BP and Times Square stories would be endlessly rehashed. And that kept them at the top of the news cycle. Given current media practice, the top stories are those that other media outlets consider the top stories. So if you’re not covering what everybody else is covering, then you’re not doing your job.

You can do this with all stories, of course. But here’s one quick indicator of the media attention span: on May 11, there was a total of 5,790,000 Google web entries for “Alabama tornadoes.” There were 68,200,000 for “Charlie Sheen.”

On his website on May 1, Hank Williams Jr. wrote about the Alabama tornadoes thusly: “People are looking for their kids and family members. This is the second worst national disaster since 1932. The media, in general, have decided to cover and exploit the royal wedding instead of showing the devastation the people are going through. What a dumb choice!”

Further muddying news coverage is the fact that an inherent bias toward the South and the Midwest and the rest of flyover country by the national media has been pretty obvious for years. Whether it’s TV shows mocking Southern accents or articles looking for meth labs and incest, the edge is there.

The South, of course, doesn’t always help its own cause. Witness the recent flaps about officials that insist on flying the Confederate flag over courthouses. Politicians calling people “macaca” don’t help. Legislatures that want people to carry concealed guns everywhere don’t help. Even though willfully-ignorant politicians are abundantly scattered all across this country, it seems it’s the Southern hicks that always are called out.

Additionally, it’s obvious that assignment editors look for celebrity and sex. If it’s a major disaster, it’s best if it’s domestic and involves either the East or West Coast. If it’s abroad, it had better have one hell of a lot of deaths and destruction.

Remember “bus plunges”? For years they have been a staple of newspapers because they’re always short — no more than one paragraph. They’re perfect for filling in holes in pages during page makeup for print pages. They’re usually in Peru or Ecuador or somewhere equally unsexy. And they’ve always had a one-line headline on the order of “Bus Plunge Kills 84 in South America,” and the story reads something like, “A bus plunged off a road in the Andes Mountains and fell down a mountainside, killing all 84 aboard, including the driver.” Well, sometimes our local and regional disasters are coming to be regarded as nothing more than bus plunges.

There is something inherently sad about having to practically beg for help for the land of your roots because the world at large isn’t watching. Hank Williams Jr.’s home is Alabama, and that’s why he was the first one out there, pointing out the need for coordinated relief. Mississippi is Faith Hill’s home. Louisiana is Tim McGraw’s home. That’s why they and the other country artists band together to help.

There was a time when the words “home” and “land” meant something special, something deeply profound. Home was where you came from and your family came from. And you were proud of it. Land was your roots. It was your family land where you built your home and raised your family. Now “home” and “land” have been melded into a bastardized term for a giant apparatus that has come to be personified by an army of nervous, blue-gloved toy soldiers.