Stock Market Responding to Japan’s Nuclear Crisis—The Role of American Media

The stock market is responding to Japan’s nuclear crisis, and the picture isn’t pretty. The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished down 242 points today. The Nasdaq dropped by 51 points.

This is because the stock market doesn’t like uncertainty. And uncertainty is the hallmark of the current situation. Japan is in crisis. The American media are trying get to the bottom of things. But they have resorted to sheer speculation on the basis of doubtful evidence. I hold the irresponsible media partly responsible for our stock market malaise.

Japanese officials are holding their cards close to the vest. Is this because the news about their damaged nuclear reactors is far worse than they want the world to know? Or is it because the Japanese culture favors patient and cautious reporting rather than minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow updating? Who knows?

Here’s something we do know. When the American media bring the experts in to speculate about events unfolding in Japan, they are compelled to reflect “two sides” to the “issue.” (Maxim: “There two sides to every issue.”) What’s the issue? “Just how bad is the situation and how much risk of spreading radiation is there right now?” So one expert is selected precisely for his relative optimism and another is selected for her more negative outlook. This does not ensure that the media retain individuals on each side who are equally competent to evaluate what little is known.

Case in point: Bill O-Reilly (Fox News) interviewed Professor Richard Muller, a physicist at UC Berkeley, and Rita King who, bless her heart, is a “former nuclear industry journalist.” Speculation without benefit of good data is bad enough. But speculation from a former journalist is painfully specious.

Gunther Oettinger

Cameras with direct feed into some American broadcast studio are an invitation to loose lips. Have you heard what Gunther Oettinger said today? Who’s Gunther Oettinger, you ask. He’s the European Union Energy Chief. Gunther said that Japan’s nuclear plant crisis is “out of control.” This was during a European Parliament committee meeting in Brussels. The stock market went nuclear; the sell-off in equities plunged deeper. Read about this here, where we’re told:

The EU energy commissioner’s spokeswoman, however, later clarified that Oettinger did not have any special or extra information on the situation in Japan.

There you have it. An escalation in alarmist talk with no correlative change in data.

Let’s face it. We don’t know what’s happening on the ground in Japan. Our typically American demand for immediate information and quick fixes isn’t getting us anywhere. Poor Shepard Smith, of Fox News, flew out to Japan to get first-hand information, and he’s learning more about what’s happening in Japan during his conversations with Fox anchors at home than he is from officials in Japan.

In American news reporting, there’s no such thing as keeping your powder dry and your mouth shut. But if there isn’t any more specific real news from Japan soon, the media may have to start covering other important issues and events happening in the world, like our national debt and the Congressional failure to produce a budget, the war in Afghanistan, and Muammar Gaddafi’s goofy and perilous antics in Libya.

About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

4 Responses to Stock Market Responding to Japan’s Nuclear Crisis—The Role of American Media

  1. Ray Kelley says:

    as reads “role” should read “roll out.” Mea culpa for the sloppy editing. Major loss of feeling in my hands has forced me to learn to use a voice control program, and stopping to click on options presented feels totally different than the tactile feedback I once experienced with my fingers.


  2. Ray Kelley says:


    Actually, Doug, I’m all for chiding the business of news reporting in the electronic media. Unfortunately, with the general population’s trend toward divesting themselves of in-depth follow-up to news bites, we find that the news sources which once provided the follow-up stories are disappearing because of lack of readership.

    I think I could even tolerate the way many of the so-called news channels role their 1- to 3-minute investment in pretense of meaningful interviews doled out between long segments of op-ed (often badly researched if not outright lacking in factual basis) if I had a belief that there was some significant effort on the part of the public at large to look into the facts (on this, I stand behind the spirit of your sentiments if not the specifics of expression.)


  3. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Ray,

    Prior to seeing your comment, I saw the same portion of O’Reilly again on TV and updated my post with the actual names of the two people interviewed, along with titles visible under their names. Comparative expertise, not gender, is what counts here. I’m chiding the media, and have singled out the American media for special reproach. I know they’re an easy target, but the exercise is valuable for those who want to tone their critical thinking “muscles.”



  4. Ray says:

    I find this interesting, if only because the capitalistic market has long since divested itself of significant investment in nuclear power. We know this because the nuclear industry is demanding guaranteed loans — because they are unable to get the capital markets to invest in loans for the buidling nuclear facilities without them.

    So, long before this incident the venture capitalists had already made business decisions about their investment in nuclear facilities based on data available to those venture capitalists. Based on those decision and the already existing lack of venture capital willingness to invest, the industry (whose history of having lied in response to status inquiries on inspections and safety where the government has feebly exerted anything akin to reasonable enforcement of legal standards of operation puts them in the same category as trusting the cigarette industry to give me straight information on links between smoking and cancer) wants the government — i.e., the taxpayers — to protect them should the nuclear investment prove unprofitable.

    And, I’m actually kind of interested on Doug Geivett’s views on the free press given his recent comments, and not just in this piece. For example, hereinabove, does Doug Geivett have any idea as to the woman reporter’s bona fides, or does Doug Geivett simply make the assumption woman + reporter (singularly or in combination) automatically discredits the woman reporter’s opinions. I have known many professionals in technical fields (including but not limited to law, medicine, geology, and engineering) who made a decision to become reporters in their field of expertise. I don’t always agree with some of those whom I know and consider friends, but I don’t automatically disregard their opinions simply because they are now getting paid as “reporters.”

    No, really, I am interested — I’m not simply yanking your chain.



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