Fake News – Southwest Florida Edition

“If it bleeds, it leads,” this is the notion that has long driven news media. Yellow journalism was synonymous with most “mainstream” news media practices in the West going back more than a century.

American presidents going back to Washington loathed the press because of its uncanny ability to warp and misrepresent facts (or to totally miss important stories). Salaciousness and superficiality are often the preferred modes of journalism. In the age of Twitter and social media, this is truer than ever.

But it is more than sheer sensationalism. The media, as you know, is biased. Things have become so biased that there are now Left and Right-wing networks. Both of which are trying to shape the political environment by controlling and changing the narrative. In the process, though, ordinary people are the real victims.

That’s okay in the eyes of many media executives: because the pain and suffering their own reportage causes only creates more chaos for them to cover and stoke more fears.

Consider this: during the Colonial Pipeline attack, when much of the United States was effectively cut off from essential fuel, there were massive runs on gasoline in Southwest Florida. I experienced the panic many of my fellow Floridians had endured at the time, as I needed to refill my gas tank and could not because there was, quite literally, no fuel available in any of the nearby gas stations.

Thankfully, a neighbor who operates a boat tour business from his home had extra gas stashed away in his garage. He was kind enough to give me some of his fuel and helped us get through that week until the fuel shortage in Southwest Florida could be remedied.

During the entire experience, though, I was confounded: how is it that Southwest Florida was experiencing shortages in fuel when we did not receive gasoline from the pipeline? We are but a couple of hours south of the Port of Tampa, after all. Did we not get our fuel supply from there? As it turns out, I was correct. Southwest Florida does receive the bulk of its fuel from the Port of Tampa.

So, how could there have been fuel shortages all of the way down in Southwest Florida if we did not receive our fuel from the Colonial Pipeline?

The long-and-short of it is: the media caused the shortage in Southwest Florida.

Courtesy of the U.S. Energy Information Agency, 2021.

Since we did not get our fuel from Colonial Pipeline, local gas stations did not see a reason to expand their inventory of gasoline, assuming that most people would go about their day as they normally did and not put an increased demand on limited fuel supplies.

But, local news had actually been agitating all throughout the night for Southwest Floridians to “be prepared” for knock-on effects from the Colonial Pipeline closure.

Fuel, they said, would be at a premium and there would be shortages everywhere! The sky was falling! Save what you can! Act now, or forever be left in the lurch.

Not once did anyone in the local press step forward to pour cold water on these salacious claims–until after the shortages occurred. No producer or ombudsman came out to decry the sensational reportage during the flawed reporting. Sensationalism was, after all, the entire point of the media’s coverage in Southwest Florida.

Anything to link up the otherwise quiet Gulf Coast hamlet of Southwest Florida to the ongoing chaos and misery occurring north of Florida. Ratings must have been gold for those shows–and if the owners of the local studios had any investments in local gas stations, they must’ve seen a huge increase in their profits for that week!

But ordinary people down here suffered. Lives were disrupted. People fought with each other (I personally witnessed two near fist fights at a gas station over limited supplies). Things quickly devolved from the routine pleasantness of Southwest Florida into Mad Max at the Thunder Dome.

All because the media had stoked people’s fears of an impending gasoline shortage (that never was). In response to the first wave of reports from the local press of an impending gas shortage, preppers arrived at gas stations in the late night/early morning and began filling massive jugs with fuel.

At best, they would simply hoard these supplies for the coming apocalypse. At worst, they would sell their extra supplies of fuels to desperate motorists–at astronomical levels.

By the time average people were up going about their day that next morning, there was no fuel to be had. The supplies had been pulled too soon and replacements were not available. The news was supposedly supposed to inform people and arm them with factual information to help them navigate the increasingly complex world in which they lived.

Instead, news has often striven to do the exact opposite: to panic and scare the bejesus out of people to such a point that ordinary life is disrupted and chaos and mania replace the ordinary peace.

And I am yet again experiencing this as I sit under the gray, wet, and windy skies of Tropical Storm Elsa, I am once more barraged by constant fear mongering reportage of local news. The breathless, unrelenting coverage of a storm that is essentially a prolonged rain event (not that different from countless other storms Floridians are accustomed to during the summer months) is designed to instill fear in the viewers.

Meanwhile, the hosts of these programs are visibly upset that more death and chaos has not been visited upon their viewers. It is times like these, after all, that make careers out of local yokel reporters looking to make it to the big leagues in the cities.

Alas, Mother Nature will not give these cretins what they yearn for: She will not flood my family out of our home–this time. Worry not, dear Media, there are many weeks left in the hurricane season. We may just die yet!

It used to be that yelling, “fire!” in a crowded building or at an event was illegal. Now the media gets to simultaneously start the fire and then yell “smoke”–while barring all of the doors closed. The media is a weird and fickle business. Much like the tobacco companies, it is one of the few industries where it actually tries to kill its customers.

So, when former President Trump referred to the mainstream media as the “enemy of the people,” that may have not been the most insane thing the forty-fifth president said during his tumultuous time in office. The reason so many hated that line was because it was so patently true.

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