We see those words every day as they flash across television screens. The counterpart to these words are the bolded headlines that scream from the front pages of countless newspapers. And, on the radio somber voices announce the latest disasters.
We count on those words every day to keep us informed. But what happens when those words are WRONG, INACCURATE, INCORRECT?
The Highway 530 Slide is an example of the news media chasing glory rather than truth, or even accuracy. When the news media first arrived on the scene that fateful March 22, a beautiful Saturday morning, Highway 530 was blocked and traffic stopped close to the Oso Fire Hall. Because that point was where they were stopped, the news media dubbed the landslide-turned-into-mud-slurry-tidal-wave the “Oso Mudslide”.
No one could blame the media for the MISNOMER that day. It was a day of chaos, fear, hope, and devastation as survivors were pulled from certain death and the count of bodies rose. No one could’ve blamed them for the next couple of days, but after that…..
It has been nine weeks now since that fateful day in March. I have personally spoken to several news media people and written to others asking that they cease calling the Highway 530 Slide the “Oso Mudslide”.
Daniel Catchpole of the Everett Herald answered my email on April 28:
Daniel Catchpole <email@example.com>
Thank you for your email. I’ve shared it with the newsroom. You make excellent points, some of which have been raised already in the newsroom.
The name is meant solely as a geographic reference. Oso was the closest thing that shows up on a map. The name isn’t meant to connote who suffered the most. I agree that it is frustrating that the name doesn’t quite match up. And I have referenced Hazel in several of my stories.
Perhaps we should have called it the Hazel Landslide, but when that decision was made, it was in the early hours of the disaster. There was sparse information. But once we started using one name, switching to another name would have created much confusion among readers and officials. And in the first couple days after the slide, confusion was something that people in Snohomish County didn’t need more.
(NOTE: Actually, Hazel does show up on some maps.)
It is no longer the first days of the disaster. The officials have been calling the slide by its proper name, The Highway 530 Slide, for several weeks now. No one appears “confused” by the change from “Oso Slide” to “Highway 530 Slide”. No one except the NEWS MEDIA. They still seem unable to grasp the difference.
A section of Highway 530 was wiped out along with a small community–Hazel and the Steelhead Loop.
The nearest part of Oso to the slide was the east end of Oso Loop Road, situated on the WEST side of the slide and four miles away from the closest edge of the mud.
We had a recent memorial at the site of the slide before the highway opened to traffic. I talked with one of the people from one of the major news media in the Seattle area and asked him to use the proper name for the Highway 530 Slide and to at least mention Hazel.
He looked at me kind of blankly and said, “Hazel? Where’s Hazel?”
I told him, “You’re standing next to it. And the people who lived here, and died here, deserve to be recognized, to be named, to be honored.”
He said, as he crabbed away from me, “It’s not my call. I just do what the higher ups tell me to do. They said call it Oso Slide. I don’t want to argue this with you….” then he slipped away like a wet eel.
So….I am a voice crying in the darkness created by the very people who are supposed to shine a light for the rest of us, the news media.
They made a mistake and misnamed the slide. That’s okay. They’re human; it was chaotic during those first days (I know; I was here). We can all understand that.
What we who live here on the EAST side of the slide don’t understand is this:
Why will the news media not admit the misnomer? Or at least, stop using it and change over to what the officials are calling the disaster: The Highway 530 Slide?
Why won’t they, at least, honor the people who died by naming their community?
There are the two reasons to NOT trust the news media:
1. They won’t admit a mistake
2. Even presented with information, they won’t accept they might have been wrong and they won’t CHANGE.
Maybe they shouldn’t be called the “news media”? Perhaps,that is a misnomer. Maybe some of them should be called the “myth media”?
COME WITH ME on a journey into the past and meet the community of Hazel, Washington. I am currently researching the area of the Highway 530 Slide and will be posting about the history and the people who lived there. DON’T MISS THE UPDATES! CLICK and FOLLOW.