The American News Media's Most Important Story Right Now

Published in Online Spin, September 29th, 2017.

On Jan. 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti. Three million people were affected, including 45,000 Americans.
Within two days, the U.S. military was on the ground, the largest contingent of more than 20 countries that had sent personnel.

Within three days, the supercarrier USS Carl Vinson reached Haiti, having traveled at maximum possible speed.

In total, 22,000 U.S. service members responded to the emergency.

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit off the east coast of Japan, followed by a devastating tsunami. At the time, there were 40,000 troops and thousands of American family members living in Japan.

That same day, Scott Van Buskirk, then commander of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, called VADM Kensei Kuramoto, commander of Japan’s maritime forces: “We are ready to help you. Tell us what you need.”

In total, 24,000 U.S. service members responded to the emergency. On Aug. 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor, Texas.

Within “days, the number of FEMA employees, other federal agencies, and the National Guard deployed topped 31,000.”

On Sept. 10, Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys.

Within two days, more than 40,000 federal personnel were on the ground.

On Sept. 20, Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico.

A full six days later, there were only 10,000 federal staff on the ground.

As of Sept. 26, the total Army response was around 4,000 soldiers and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civilians in both the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

While there is some legal debate about what to call it, there is no debate that Puerto Rico is part of the United States.

There is no debate that people who are born there are by law U.S. citizens: 3.5 million American citizens.

There is no debate that, right now, there is no power, limited food, limited clean water and limited operational infrastructure.

There is no debate that the heat index this week hit 102.

There is no debate that the media is not adequately covering this story.

This week, my friend Nate Mook landed on the ground in Puerto Rico. He reports: “Puerto Rico is on the cusp of a humanitarian disaster… Neighborhoods like Isla Verde were heavily damaged, and people lock themselves inside when the 7 p.m. curfew hits.

“Many don’t have running water. Only those lucky (and wealthy) enough to have diesel generators have electricity, which can cost $200 per day. But diesel is hard to come by, as is gas. People wait 10 hours to fill up their cars, and security is a major problem -- drivers won’t deliver fuel at night and gas stations close when the sun goes down.

“Electricity isn’t expected to return for months. Access to food is mixed: fast food chains are operating during the day, and some grocery stores are functioning with long lines.

“But with no electricity, people can’t keep much food at home. Subsisting on fast food and packaged chips and cookies can only last so long. The private food distribution centers for restaurants and hotels are functioning well, but getting that food to people in need is the real difficulty, especially outside San Juan. The government has kitchens, but hasn’t yet activated them except to serve first responders. Most kitchens remain useless due to no diesel…

“People may not be starving yet, but things will go bad very quickly if the support structures aren’t put into place now.”

Millions of American citizens are in dire need of help, and as The New Yorker said this week, “mainland American journalists have just not found the fate of Puerto Ricans to be all that compelling -- worth a mention, not a lead.”

This is the most important American story in the news right now. It’s more important than whether football players stand for the anthem. It’s certainly more important than Hugh Hefner dying -- may he rest in peace.

U.S. media, you have one job right now. Do it.

Nate Mook recommends donating to World Central Kitchen, which goes directly to the people helping on the ground in Puerto Rico. I also recommend following @EricHolthaus on Twitter.

Kaila Colbin