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Dead Tree Alert: What the Media Could Learn from Shark Week

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Illustration by Francisco Caceres for TIME

Illustration by Francisco Caceres for TIME

I’m not sure exactly what this says about our world, but one of the most interesting critiques of the media I’ve seen in a while is a Discovery Channel Shark Week documentary airing next week. Sharkbite Summer takes a look at 2001′s “Summer of the Shark”—memorialized, among other places, on a TIME magazine cover—in which the U.S. media went into a feeding frenzy over shark attacks, which, it turned out, there were fewer of that summer than the year before.

My column in this week’s TIME looks at Sharkbite Summer—which, of course, is part of a full week of programming about how big and scary sharks are—and takes Shark Week as a metaphor for the way the media works itself up into a lather over remote, but dramatic, threats. 

Of course, 2001 was a long time ago. Surely we’ve learned a lot since then! 9/11 happened! We’re serious now! The idea of the media going nuts over overblown stories in the summer is a holdover of a different day, right? Of course it is.

Hey, look! The President’s having a beer!