Two dead in Boston. But many more dead elsewhere.

Why do we (meaning the public and the media) react the way we do to terrible events like the deaths and injuries from the bombs in Boston today? Is it the “T” word, Terrorism, that makes these tragedies ‘big news’. There are many horrific deaths daily in our world.

For instance, the NY times reports 37 killed and 40 wounded by bombs in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Hilla, Falluja, Nasiriya and Tikrit on Monday.

But that’s the Middle East, so it doesn’t matter?

Closer to home, an off-duty NY city cop killed her 1 year-old baby son and boyfriend before shooting herself today.

But that’s just three of many deaths by firearms in the US today, so no big deal?

In closing NBC’s coverage of the Boston bombing tonight Peter Jennings said he wanted to put the incident into perspective. I thought he might really do that but instead he pointed out that one of the astronauts on the international space had taken a picture of Boston from space.

Yes, people are self-centered. You’re not telling us anything we didn’t know long ago. It’s been the subject of (grim) jokes for a very long time. “20,000 dead in Bangladesh typhoon: two Americans lose their luggage.”

It’s human nature. Get used to it.

I think people in general “care” about those other deaths, but beyond a sense of general empathy, what else do you want? I don’t know the cop, the family, the town…

Bigger events will be publicized because of their size, or their national security implications, or what have you. And seeing it, in color, on the news has a tendency to cause people to empathize more, for the same reason that the story of one accidental gun death can have more impact than the bland, impersonal statistics.

Probably, though, most of us just go “that’s fucked up” and continue with our own lives.

Any time you can imagine yourself or a loved one in the situation, it becomes more personal, and the impact becomes greater. Many of us can imagine attending a sporting event to watch a loved one in a race (or being in that race ourselves). Many of us have visited Boston, or live there. It is close, personal.

We have to work a lot harder to feel personal empathy for someone killed in Kirkuk, a place we are not familiar with, living a life that is quite literally foreign to us.

This is human nature and IMO it’s not a cause for criticism.

I think one reason the current incident is getting so much press is that its the first successful terrorist attack on American soil since 9-11 in the middle of a large public event. If it was just a random shooting that killed two people even in Boston, I doubt it’d get as much press.

Bolding mine.

Thats interesting since he died in August 7, 2005, and worked for ABC. :wink:

As has already been said, it gets press because it’s local and it’s unusual.

The more interesting question, which the OP is hinting at, is: what would happen if bombings in the Middle East became ‘big news’, complete with photographs and video of the aftermath? What if the incredible rising death toll in Syria began interrupting local television coverage, grabbed newspaper headlines, and took up a massive online presence like the Boston bombing did today?

I suspect people would start to pay more attention, and perhaps empathize more.

He’s broadcasting on the Psychic Network these days.

Which really puts things in perspective.

If he knew this was going to happen, he could have found a way to *tell *us, you’d think.

Humans are fundamentally tribal, with a natural tendency to feel loyal to their tribe / group / clan, and indifferent / suspicious / hostile to others. With care this can be controlled, but it’s always there.

As well as proximity, another significant factor in news is novelty.

Thousands of americans died today of all kinds of things. Most of these causes aren’t particularly newsworthy, but that doesn’t imply that those deaths count for less.

Similarly a war is initially big news, but then as it rages on for months or years less so.

Because it’s sensational, and it could happen to you. We wonder if this is the start of something more widespread; we wonder if any of us is safe at a large event. Attacks of this nature on American soil are unusual and therefore shocking to us, while we’ve become somewhat inured to the daily mayhem in our cities.

I think it’s the question of subconscious conditioning. Some sort of a collective preparation on how to deal with certain random acts of violence. At a personal level it’s all about rationalizing it and shelving it in a known bucket and once classified, it stays there. Inability to classify a random act like this presents a problem that manifests itself as anxiety and, at a collective level, can spiral into unpredictable dynamic.

When I say “shelving it” I mean the difference between reading about, say, home invasion in your city or neighbourhood. Wanting to know more is the urge to categorize the event and the anxiety goes on until properly recognized. For example, if next day after the home invasion, police releases a detail that says “resident known to police” everyone breathes a little bit easier.

At a collective level it’s an opportunity for all kinds of scammers and manipulators to embed their own agenda into it – subtle or not.

And that’s where, I think, the media zeroes in – not so much as that it comes from them – it is more that media is used by the existing societal structures including government to get out of the event something that, under normal circumstances, you would not be able to get. Jane Harman yesterday on CNN stating that this “points in direction of Al Qaida” is not just someone in the crowd picked at random, some smart person that will illuminate, describe or ease the anxiety - she is a PAID consultant and CNN is a profit-based media organization. And that’s where it gets tacky because there’s no money to be made (directly or indirectly) in reporting on Chicago black kids murders.

I think Nidal Hasan would be considered at least somewhat “successful”

In my own case, it’s because I have family and friends in Boston. Naturally, I’m concerned about them. (I’ve heard from them all, and they are fine.) I don’t know anybody in Baghdad, Kirkuk, etc.

Or Wade Michael Page.

Three dead and 170 or 180 injured. It’s a little misleading to compare that to two or three people dying in a shooting, not that that’s anything other than tragic. Two or three people being shot could be part of a larger story about gun violence or gang violence (I’m speaking generally, not about that specific killing) or it could be just a robbery or a domestic tragedy, not that you can’t do larger scale stories about any of those things.

Well, yes. You expect to hear reports of killings in war zones or places where those kinds of conflicts have been raging for years. It’s less expected in peacetime during a sporting event. Those factors affect their news value.

Yes, there are. Do you propose they get exactly equal news coverage, or is it OK if they’re weighted differently based on a variety of factors?

Please tell me how getting coverage in the New York Times is equivalent to someone deciding a story doesn’t matter. I mean, do you want to discuss how news coverage gets determined, or do you want to browbeat people and say a bunch of things are sort of the same?


The whole history of civilization has pivoted around the idea of moving above and beyond the basic human nature of tribalism, killing whoever is different, and mindless disregard for the future.

Randwill’s post is perfectly valid, reasonable and it raises a strong question about, to begin with, the ethics in the way the media shows us the world.

In this case, the ethics of the media mirror our own.