chapter  11
32 Pages

Mediating Foreign Disasters: The Los Angeles Times and International Relief, 1891–1914


The earthquake disaster story is a mainstay of US media, which, along with Hollywood, has been actively shaping a US culture of disaster.1 Famously, Mort Rosenblum denounced Associated Press’ Latin American coverage for containing nothing but assassination and disaster stories.2 We know from gate keeping studies that stories of coups, crises, and catastrophes dominate US international news coverage even today.3 The US media stand accused of following a “journalism of exception” in which international news is portrayed as distinct from US news,4 and therefore is full of war, confl ict, and disaster, so much so that Americans su er “compassion fatigue.”5 We know that media have changed their framing of news in recent times6 and under war conditions.7 Nevertheless, coverage of disasters remains narrowly framed: Birkland found that only one-third of 345 stories on earthquakes published in The New York Times between 1990 and 2002 mentioned the size of the event, and just one-quarter noted the damage done, that science and future threats were common features, but that mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery-the four well-known stages of disaster response-were at best mentioned in these news stories and were far less important as story lines than the other topics.8 Social scientists have good reasons not to expect sober refl ection on relief measures and long-term policies from news media coverage of earthquakes.