The fires and the media beast

As the smoke and ash settle out here in San Diego, a few things have become evident about the news in this age of disaster capitalism. One is the class nature of the corporate media beast. Another is its alienation from what’s really going on. And a third is its denial of scientific predictability. The consequences are important for people who want to work towards a better future.

While the focus of the mainstream media and the relief effort has been on places like Malibu and Rancho Bernardo, the disaster that’s befallen communities like Descanso, Pine Valley, Potrero and Ramona has gone largely unnoticed. Diverse, multiethnic communities that have a large percentage of people living in trailer parks and migrant camps and on reservations are being subjected to enforced neglect, harassment and a barrage of right-wing propaganda.

With many relief efforts going elsewhere, the Mission Indians organized internally for their mutual assistance.

As evacuation orders were lifted, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department turned in to the Border Patrol undocumented immigrants who were returning to their homes.

The Border Patrol, “La Migra,” also saw an opportunity to patrol the various relief shelters, racially profiling the evacuees.

However, mega-churches and Blackwater USA were given free access to the backcountry evacuees, with Blackwater making several deliveries of food, water and fuel to Potrero while touting the fire-fighting and humanitarian potential of their mercenaries with missionary zeal.

Local broadcast outlets have been all but consumed by real-time efforts to help in the various crises. The news cycle had barely run its course regarding an outbreak of staphylococcus bacillus when those deadly Santa Ana winds began a furious march out of the southwest desert and on to the coast. With market forces determining their agenda, mass media here failed to make a connection between recent natural disasters and global climate change.

But these phenomena are not disconnected. They have a global context. And they’re also quite predictable. Three days before the fires, the San Diego Weekly Reader outlined the preconditions for such a disaster in its lead article, titled “The Perfect Drought.”

The predictability isn’t limited to academia, environmental activists or the U.S. Geological Survey. Ordinary residents of the backcountry could point to the dead oak trees, some of which had survived for 300 years, and express their apprehension about the upcoming fire season.

Scientific predictability wasn’t lost on the Georgia piedmont either, as that state’s governor declared a drought-driven state of emergency two days before the most recent California wildfires.

As of this writing, large areas of San Diego County are still without electricity or fresh water. The evacuees have been kicked out of Qualcomm Stadium to make room for NFL football, and the county registrar of voters isn’t sure about how to get election materials to the residents of Potrero, who might like to vote against Blackwater and its friends.

Within a society that’s been corrupted by corporate profits and in a political climate that discards scientific methods onto the junk heap, it looks like those of us who want a better future face a tough road ahead. The people who control the media spotlight have an awesome public responsibility to shine a light not only on actions to mitigate the effects of natural disasters but on ways to effectively prevent the human-made ones as well, regardless of popularity or profitability.

When the information society pays more than lip service to the grassroots, community and labor organizations and the advocates for a united people’s movement, then we can do it. When the news moves the message that a better world is necessary, then we will do it!

Danny Morales is a worker in San Diego.