Hate to make today a Bob Norman pimpathon, but this piece he wrote about how the media handled the tomato-salmonella scare is just too good not to share:
First you must understand that the tomato story was perfect for newspapers. Think about it nothing like deadly tomatoes on a dull news day. Tomatoes are everywhere! In our homes, restaurants, spaghetti sauce, salads everywhere. The odds that any Sentinel readers would be affected by the salmonella scare was about the same as one of them getting stuck in a pool drain or killed by a candle (both old Help Team bugaboos). Since April, one person has died nationally with 167 reported ill. And Florida tomatoes werent affected at all.
But dont let the facts get in the way of a sensational lede story. On Tuesday, the Sun-Sentinel put the story on the front page with a large bold headline headline: HOLD THE TOMATOES.
The article wasnt about how Browardites were coming down ill. There were, of course, no illnesses here since the tomatoes were fine. The local hook was that some restaurants had pulled tomotoes from their menus even though they were believed to be safe (the entire headline, including the smaller print: Many Fast-Food Restaurants Say: HOLD THE TOMATOES).
The article itself was basically a primer on different types of tomatoes and the finer points of the salmonella you werent going to get in Florida.
Fine. Okay. The Sentinel, however, wasnt finished with this juicy story. They put the Help Team on the job and the next day came out with this lead front-page headline: Floridas tomatoes declared OK to eat.
Forget that Floridas tomatoes were never declared not OK to eat in the first place. Just pass the pizza pie. The article rehashed the previous days information and, admirably, contained a bit of self-referential criticism on the absurdity of the piece appearing in the newspaper at all .
So, how did the Tampa Bay dailies do?
The Tampa Tribune went much the same route as the rest of the dailies, playing up the voluntary ban by some large corporations before declaring tomatoes safe the next day. June 9s blog Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (never mind that salmonella isnt exactly a brutally deadly thing, although one death was linked to the tainted tomatoes) and June 10s Tainted Tomato Varieties Pulled From Supermarkets vs. June 11s FDA Clears Bay Area Tomatoes; Harvesting Stopped in South Florida and Florida Tomatoes Rejected Over Scare.
At the Times, the paper led with a pretty balanced and non-tabloidy FAQ on the story that pointed out the voluntary nature of the ban and that no Florida cases had been reported. The story was very low-key and non-inflammatory. (It appears from the Times website that an earlier headline online about tomato-borne salmonella sickening dozens nationwide was replaced with a more precise headline that didnt lead you to believe that every state was affected.) The paper even did a good story two days later on what the scare cost Florida growers: $500 million.
(photo by Manjith Kainickara)
(Crossposted from The Political Whore.)