October 30, 2011

Using Pompeii as another stick to beat Berlusconi

Filed under: Europe, Government, History, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:48

Mary Beard debunks the widely reported story of yet another wall collapse in the archaeological remains of Pompeii:

By chance I am on the site of Pompeii for the weekend. It is now swarming with more journalists than tourists, and all (it seems) with a determination to hype another collapse, another Pompeian disaster. That is to say, they are here with a determined misunderstanding of what has just happened — or with a drive to use any damage to the site as a stick with which to beat Berlusconi.

Actually, I am usually quite happy to beat Berlusconi, but the fact is that this latest melodrama only serves to make the job much more difficult for those in the archaeological services here, who are doing their level best to keep the place up and running. (This weekend curators and other staff have been fielding tv crews, not getting on with the real job.)

So far as I can tell, what happened is this. There was an absolute downpour last night, in the course of which some stones were dislodged from a relatively fragile (and not very well built) stretch of wall near the Nola gate. A custode entered this damage rather loosely in the incident book — and (we can only speculate how and why) that report got to the press, and it soon became a new “wall collapse”. The carabinieri arrived and everything in the area (including, let me confess, where I want to go) was shut off.

Media folks are not trained archaeologists, so it’s easy to understand how a garbled report could be misunderstood — and that’s setting aside the urge to use any tool as a weapon against the current Italian prime minister. This is why media reports become less and less dependable as they try to report on more specific or more technical information: they lack the expertise and usually don’t take the time to get external experts to help them. (My favourite examples of this are when naval vessels larger than a rowboat are described as “battleships” and tracked military vehicles are invariably “tanks”.)

H/T to Tyler Cowen for the link.

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