Flyover Country: The Real News About Floods

The national media haven’t paid a lot of attention to the Midwest floods, which, as it turns out, is a good thing.

As a result, I have read and watched the local news coverage in flyover country and looked at social media posts from friends who live in the Midwest, which provide a far more robust and accurate view of what’s happening on the ground.

When disaster strikes, the national media focus on the despair and helplessness of those affected; the local media emphasize the strength and determination.

As an example, a recent CNN headline barked: “The Midwest flooding has killed livestock, ruined harvests and has farmers worried for their future.” The story recounted the trials and tribulations brought about by the recent floods.

The Antelope County News in northern Nebraska provided a much more complete understanding of how communities battled the onslaught.

The newspaper recounted the story of a local man’s heroism. “With sleet spitting in his face, James Bolling spent 3 ½ hours moving icebergs from beneath the bridge—the same bridge his backhoe was sitting on as he piece-by-piece broke an ice jam on the Elkhorn River.

But knowing the icebergs could lift the bridge at any time and throw him and the others into the river wasn’t the scariest part of the night for the Clearwater man. Much worse was earlier having to rescue his friend who was standing on the roof of an F-350 with the river rushing through its windows and icebergs bouncing off the side panels. Here is the complete story:

The Omaha World-Herald recounted the story of a man who died trying to help others. “When Columbus farmer James Wilke learned that rising floodwaters had stranded a motorist along a nearby county road early Thursday, he fired up his tractor and went to help in spite of the wind and rain.

“Guide by volunteer first responders, Wilke set off down Monastery Road and across the bridge over Shell Creek. But the bridge collapsed under the tractor’s weight, throwing the 50-year-old into the flood-swollen creek….

“He was always the first to go help somebody,” said his cousin, Paul Wilke, who grew up with James just north of Columbus. “He was a person who wouldn’t just talk about making things better. He would do it.” Here is the story:

Even when national reporters like David Brooks of DaTimes venture out from behind their desks to the hinterlands, the relatively positive stories paint a picture of some anachronistic tribe from a foreign land.

“One farmer said there is a feudal mind-set among many of his friends. They’re too proud to admit any dependence. They’re afraid of vulnerability. The attitude is: I’m a farmer. My business is my business, and your business is your business. Their loneliness is driven by fear and pride,” Brooks wrote recently.

A local reporter probably would see these qualities as positive ones: strength and independence rather than weakness and dependence.

That’s why it’s useful to see the difference between how the national media misunderstand the response to the Midwest floods and the local media get it because they live in these communities rather than parachute in when tough times happen.