Prior to the Camp Fire, the biggest natural disaster in my orbit was the Loma Prieta earthquake back in 1989. Though most of my family is here around Chico, I was born and raised in the Bay Area, where my dad took a job after graduating from Chico State.
My mom and I were in her car in downtown Livermore when the tremor shook the hell out of the region. It was jolting, but we were fine. Others weren’t so lucky. Sixty-three people were killed.
While watching local news coverage that night, especially of the collapse of Oakland’s Cypress Structure—a stacked portion of Interstate 880 where 42 people perished—I couldn’t help but think about having been at the Oakland Coliseum with my dad two days earlier for Game 2 of the World Series.
A segment of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge collapsed as well, and buildings in San Francisco’s Marina District buckled and caught on fire. The next day, I read about the disaster in the Tri-Valley Herald, our East Bay newspaper, but by then the story was everywhere. It captivated the country.
National news outlets parachuted into the area to cover the carnage and pretty much solidified my disdain for most television news. What really got to me was Dan Rather’s reporting from the scene of the collapsed freeway, which included ghoulish descriptions of how people had been crushed as well as an inaccurate report that hundreds had perished.
This was pre-internet, of course, when we were reliant on just a handful of news sources.
I thought about that over the past two weeks, as I’ve obsessed over reading and watching coverage of the Camp Fire, from the LA Times to the newspaper that knows the Ridge best, the tiny eponymous Paradise Post, now a publication for a refugee population. It dawned on me: This is our Loma Prieta, our Hurricane Katrina, our Oakland Hills Fire.
With the exception of the flippant reporting by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (of Hardball fame) and watching Jeff Glor (of CBS Evening News) report poolside from Malibu (tough gig) on the loss of rich people’s properties, the out-of-town outlets have been doing a good job. They won’t be here forever, though. Indeed, they’ll pack up and be on to the next big disaster soon enough.
That will leave the reporting to a handful of small local newsrooms—the independent one run by yours truly; Chico’s hedge-fund-owned daily and the aforementioned Post, both with uncertain futures, though they have been banging out solid coverage since day one; and a couple of local television stations, including one owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose editorial independence has been questionable ever since hundreds of its stations aired identical anti-media segments mirroring Donald Trump’s sentiments.
The upside: This is our community, and we care.
Speaking of Trump, as much as I’d like to completely ignore his trip to Paradise—or is it Pleasure?—I have to say something. I was ambivalent ahead of it. On the one hand, Butte County needs help, so I was glad he would see the devastation. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but bet he would say something stupid, insensitive or arrogant. As we all know now, he hit the trifecta.