Press Coverage of the Colorado Wildfires

The biggest news doesn't always get the most attention.

In the wee hours, longtimer Ken_L posted in the open forum,

The horrifying Colorado fires didn’t get as much media coverage as the death of a 99 year-old TV star. The tornadoes of fortnight ago are ancient history. Last century, both events would have been massive front page stories, with the damage and the recovery efforts prominent in the media for weeks.

These days, extreme weather events are like mass shootings. There are more and more of them, and Americans aren’t willing to take the action necessary to reverse the trend.

Now, the good news is that story is indeed making the news. Even with it being New Year’s Day, it made the front page of today’s New York Times and Washington Post.

Indeed, it made it above-the-fold in the latter, above even the news of the passing of 99-year-old Betty White.

Since I tend to focus more on politics, international affairs, and sports more than disasters, natural or otherwise, I haven’t devoted a lot of time to reading about the wildfires. I know that a handful of OTB regulars live in the Centennial State and hope they’re okay.

Speaking only for myself, I suspect the reason I’ve paid less attention to it than I might have twenty years ago has less to do with climate change making these events more common than with the changes in how I consume news. In the olden days of the late 1990s—when White was a young lass in her 70s—I watched nightly newscasts and the various talking head shows on television. Wildfires are practically made-for-TV events, so this would have gotten massive attention. Now that I get my news and information almost exclusively from reading online, though, I get much less of this.

There are at least two reasons for this. First, there’s simply far, far more of the content that I want to read than ever. If I want to—and this time of year, I often do—I can spend hours a week reading columns about Alabama Crimson Tide and Dallas Cowboys football. That wouldn’t have been possible in 1999 if I lived in Tuscaloosa or Dallas, much less here in the DC suburbs. Second, the algorithms that push stories will naturally push the stories that are most likely to generate reader clicks.

And, yes, I’m sorry to say, the passing of a beloved icon who has been on TV for decades is such a story.

FILED UNDER: Climate Change, Media, Natural Disasters, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. becca says:

    Anyone watch Don’t Look Up? Pretty much skewers everyone, libs and cons, Hollywood, the media, etc for our abject failure to honestly confront the climate issue.
    Death to 2021 is quite a romp. Again, no one escapes some blame, but it is laugh out loud funny.
    I guess my dark sense of humor is showing.

  2. EddieInCA says:


    Meryl Streep should get nominated for an Oscar for “Don’t Look Up”. The entire cast is amazing.

  3. Andy says:

    It’s certainly been big news here in Colorado.

    That it isn’t more prominent nationally isn’t surprising and nothing new for a host of long-standing reasons. Although this fire is very bad, and will almost certainly be the worst fire in Colorado history in terms of financial impact, it’s still a local event that people in other parts of the country, understandably, aren’t terribly interested in.

    Plus the “news” is a business and the reality is that writing a dozen stories on some kid wearing a MAGA hat on the Washington Mall that is political red meat at a national level is much better for the bottom line than something like this.

    Just some context for those who are interested:

    Here on the front range, we had a historically wet spring, in contrast to the western slope which was (and remains) in a drought. The wet spring made things here very green and beautiful through the summer but also promoted much more grass growth than is typical. Once things dried out, there was a lot more fuel. Combined with how most suburbs here are developed – with lots of open space – plus high winds, once a fire got going, it burns hotter and can’t really be stopped.

    My own house backs up to open space and there is a lot more dry grass and fuel than a typical year. A couple of years ago, we re-landscaped our back yard including a lot of xeriscaping and rocks to reduce water use – it has the added benefit of giving a non-flammable buffer to the open space, but until our neighbors do the same, it’s only a band-aid.

  4. Mr. Prosser says:

    Climate disasters, shootings, starving people in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Yemen, Madagascar, violence in Palestine, Syria, Myanmar, opioid deaths, on and on and on. When does one stop taking the god-awful cherry flavored cough syrup of childhood and indulge in sports and movies?

  5. gVOR08 says:

    A couple days ago Kevin Drum pointed out that 2021 was a huge improvement over 2020.

    Last year Donald Trump was president and the risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 was pretty high.

    This year Donald Trump is not president and the risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 is pretty low as long as you’re vaxed and boosted.

    He-Whose-Name-I’m-Tired-Of is still not president, I expect almost all of the OTB crowd are vaxxed, and if not boosted will be soon, and the economy is going great guns. 2022 promises to be a very good year.

  6. Monala says:

    @becca: @EddieInCA: I mentioned in an open thread recently that one unrealistic thing about the movie is that once the comet comes close enough to be visible to the naked eye, the folks who had believed it was a hoax get angry because they’ve been lied to.

    I pointed out that we’ve seen with COVID and Qanon that people don’t like to admit they’ve been duped. In this case, people would be more likely to claim that the visible comet was a fake projection in the sky, rather than admit they were lied to and fell for it.

  7. Lounsbury says:

    @becca: It’s utter rubbish as a climate change skewering but rather on point for Covid. Not having read the positioning as climate change critique prior to watching, rather enjoyed it as a skewering of the Covid19 response. On reading it had been intended as climate change…

  8. becca says:

    @Lounsbury: Eye of the beholder, I suppose.

  9. Lounsbury says:

    @becca: No, by any bloody logic if one has a proper understanding of the climate change science. There is nothing in any way a good analogy for climate change in that – as a metaphor for climate change it’s completely analytically wrong. The core problem of climate change is it is a problem utterly unlike an identifiable comet oncoming.

    The very fundamental of the climate change problem is it is gradual, decades long gradual, it is difficult to directly ascertain with substantial real uncertainty on direct connexion with year-to-year changes. And it is not tied to a discrete single vector. Utterly unlike the comet metaphor.

    Now Covid, it was brilliant as a metaphor for Covid as the timeline, the progress, the discrete nature of the threat, its direct observability, all that aligns well with the metaphor of the show. But not climate change.

    As a metaphor for climate chage it is utter rubbish – complete rubbish particularly as it fundamentally gets the nature of the challenge both scientific and practical, becoming sadly merely agitprop of a poor nature successful with the pre-sold.

    Pity really, as Covid19 critique it’s really bloody good.

  10. wr says:

    @Lounsbury: Then decide it’s about Covid and enjoy it, for God’s sake.

    You must be a ton of fun on a night out.

  11. dazedandconfused says:


    A tangential mention:

    I know a guy who had a fire-proof house built for an out 0f the way place in Utah, but a place known to be a big snag-brush fire hazard. It didn’t really cost him all that much more to do it too. Concrete “logs”.

    Not that one could stay there during a fire, or anything. However after a fire there would be every expectation it would still be there, roof and all. Smoke damaged, yes, but that’s easy to clean up. At the time he built it he imagined he would be the first of a trend but for some reason this idea hasn’t become terribly popular yet. Perhaps it will soon. Nothing different about the interior construction from a normal house.

  12. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    My reading is the opposite: I like to follow American news and I’m astonished that’s there is always a fire somewhere. Some TV journalists looks like to have became the “Senior Fire correspondent” because they are covering some wild fire. If the problem is coverage about Climate Change then the problem is lack of coverage of natural catastrophes outside the US.

  13. Lounsbury says:

    @wr: Who said I did not? It is a simple observation that it is utter rubbish as a climate change metaphor and critique, whatever Left hollywood innumerates may think.