Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Reporting the wrong thing

I think we all need a bit of perspective on the Boston bombing.  When the local news in Boston goes crazy about it that makes sense.  Even when the news all over the US is full of it that makes some sense.  When world news is completely drenched with coverage it just makes me sad.  Canadian and British news sources spending inordinate space both in ink on paper and digital space on the Boston bombing is a serious mess.

Was it a tragedy?  Certainly.  Are there one hundred greater tragedies all over the world every day?  Yes!

While it is great to sympathize with the people who died or were injured in Boston we should not think that just because somebody lives in a country vaguely similar to ours their life is worth more.  People die in, for example, Iraq, constantly due to bombs or other violence and it barely makes a blip on the news except for the monthly body counts.  Going nuts because some rich folks died instead of some poor folks is a terrible way to live.

Two car crashes with five or six deaths happen daily and yet we hardly even care but when fewer people die of a bomb we can't help but stick our eyeballs to the story.  Somehow that becomes more of a threat, more real, more deserving of our concern, cash, and attention.  If we really want to express our concern for our fellow beings or worry about threats to our safety we need to get our brains in gear.  In the past two decades car crashes have killed ~400,000 people in the US and terrorism has killed ~4,000.  In Canada the numbers are even further apart.

Bombings are bad but we can do practically nothing to stop them.  There are plenty of things we *can* do to stop other sorts of deaths though and we should be doing those things, not spending all of our time obsessing over what is in the end a small thing on the world stage.  Having a fit over a bombing like this makes it more likely to happen again rather than less and furthers the goals of the bombers; that is, to create panic, chaos, and fear.


  1. I think you do need to keep in mind that the Boston marathon isn't just a Boston event. It isn't just a US event. Canadian and British news sources care about it because so many Canadian and British nationals were there. It is also an event which will have an impact on our economies.

    People dying in Iraq is not a good thing, but there aren't a ton of Canadians just chilling in Iraq at an event being targeted by those bombs.

    And it's a bit of a chicken/egg thing, but low coverage of Iraq bombs means they won't have any impact on our economy. Which means they aren't as worthy of news coverage. And so on.

    That said, it is ludicrous that, for example, the hockey rink in Washington massively raised security harassment to get in for the hockey game the next day.

  2. I think it is projection, plus illusion of control.

    Driving a car is very dangerous business, but you are doing it, you got into your car in theory knowing what it is about. A drunk idiot can get you, but even in that case in your mind eye there is *something* you could do to prevent it.

    Same goes for Irak, you can not live in a war-torn country (fairly easy, actually, just stay where you are!) and thus not be exposed to it.

    However bombing in a western country (people like us!) drives the doulbe-whammy point of being something out of your control to react to and that could perfectly happen to you. So it hits home indeed.

  3. Bombings in Boston are of more interest to me than bombings in Iraq as I had two friends in the Boston area (Cambridge) on the day of the attack, and no friends in Iraq. In general I know many many more people in the US than in Iraq and I suspect this is typical of most Canadians.


  4. I don't know that it's a safe bet that there are 100 greater tragedies around the world every day. As a single event taking place on a single block, at least 3 people dead, a dozen with lost limbs (some of whom may likely go on to die) and nearly 200 with injuries ranging from minor to maiming is a pretty big deal.

    The death rate for car travel over the last twenty years has gone from 2.1 to 1.1 per 100 million miles traveled. This one incident means that the death rate per hundred million miles traveled by Boston marathon runners over the past 20 years at more than 3. I realize those aren't fair things to compare, but it gives a sense of the scope of the event.

    I think there is a difficulty with how we frame an event. The bombing was a very small event compared to all traffic deaths taken together, a very large even compared to the vast majority of traffic accidents (even fatal ones) taken individually. It is also very hard to compare attacks against people in non-wars to attacks against people in wars. Wars are terrible things, but naturally news that comes from within wars is going to have less of an impact on people who are not involved in the war than news about random killings.