The Boston Marathon Tragedy and the Media Meatheads

Is it just me or does the media reporting of recent tragic events like the Boston Marathon and the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion make others ill watching supposedly intelligent people behave like they haven’t got the wit of an  inchworm.

more useless news

I don’t want to diminish the tragedy of the Boston bombing or offend the pain and suffering of its victims and the survivors of those who died.  There is a lot left that remains to be told about how a cold and senseless act of terror impacted those who experienced and witnessed that awful day.  There are intimate stories that need to be told about the acts of courage by public and civilian first responders who bravely dealt with its devastation and the later attempts to find and capture the perpetrators who inflicted this cruelty.

So when I say I am going to puke if I hear one more report about Boston that talks of “heroes” and attempts to paint the city as suffering untold trauma, I am not being critical of real heroes or true and essential mournful feelings by those who were there.  I simply want the media circus to quit doing stupid interviews that ask inane questions with obvious answers about how people felt and over dramatizing how the city will struggle to recover from the shock of it all.

Most of us have experienced fear and panic at some level where we can identify with those present at the Boston Marathon and the emotions they surely felt.  Yet reporters barely give anyone time to assimilate what just happened to them before they pounce on them, hoping to get “an exclusive” that will set them apart from others doing much the same thing.  There’s nothing exclusive that’ll come from getting in the faces of dazed and frightened people expected to inform a concerned public.

I detest too how flippantly the term “hero” is thrown out there by the media to portray people who reacted to meet the victims needs after a tragic event rather than flee for their own safety.  At any given time some people have a gut instinct to react in this manner simply because the threat of danger is not that obvious to them at the time.  Relatives and close friends are likely to react this way naturally.  Someone who is close to them has been hurt.

charles-barsotti-some-of-us-are-unsung-heroes-new-yorker-cartoon

In any similar situation though at another time some may not act so “heroically” and instead revert to the other half of the “fight or flight” response built into our DNA.  Such reactions are instantaneous and not rationally explored under such rapidly evolving circumstances.  Running for your life is a not an unheroic act by default.  It’s natural.  The real hero is the one who understands the danger confronting them and proceeds in harm’s way anyway.

What are these people thinking of?

Nothing makes me cringe more when I watch a reporter look woefully at their non-heroic prey and ask a question that only a moron would ask someone who nearly lost their life and escaped bodily harm.  “What were you thinking when that happened?” or “How did that make you feel?”

I think we can all understand how survival instincts would kick in under such conditions and the natural response of fear overwhelming us.  But reporters are looking for something deeper from their interviewee to provide them and us insight into the tragedy that happened.  Something that is simply not going to occur while people are still in shock or even days later with a camera and lights in their face and with a stranger they really don’t know well enough to empty themselves of their innermost feelings that have not become apparent even to them yet.

So we all have to suffer through those 60 second spots where interviewees struggle to respond to such obviously stupid inquiries.  They haven’t yet been able to peel back the layers that hide such trauma but here they are anyway, being asked to give the reporter something more than they are capable of providing.

When they attempt to reach down in that well of darkness to recall the events of that day, words are not forthcoming but genuine emotions can be.  And that’s when the camera zooms in on them.  The reporter is eagerly waiting for that tremor in their voice and the tears to start running from eyes of painful faces.  There’s the extreme closeup and the silence as an inevitable emotion rises to the surface.

You can almost hear the reporter say to themselves as it happens,  “There it is.  That’s what I came for.”  These may be genuine human responses but they don’t speak to the depth of their causes.  That requires time and time is the enemy of the reporter that has to present something almost instantaneously for the 24-7 news cycle we now live with.

Have you no sense of decency at all?

And then there are those interviews with people who had some association with the perpetrators.  These are the ones I can’t get to the TV remote control quick enough to change the channel from.  Those interviews with family members or lovers will always convey shock and doubt that “such a quite and kind boy would do such a thing.”  Clearly people close to the one who they thought they knew intimately are in disbelief that they had a dark side to them.  It’s got to be a little unnerving to realize that someone who just murdered numerous people could have displayed such warmth and kindness in their presence.

Why they even allow the vulcher reporters into their homes to probe as they do is beyond me.  I feel like a voyeur invading the personal space of someone who is grieving and experienced unexpected shock at a time when privacy is what they really want.   Such interviews may be the result of a cunning reporter trying to convince the families that  “telling their story” will have a cathartic effect and “show a human side to an otherwise disturbed individual”.

Let’s face it.  Such opportunities demand that reporters do what they need to do to get that human reaction for their audience, even if it is manipulated through conniving efforts.  They are after all in competition with other news sources who struggle to maintain market share of viewer audiences.  It was in such haste that CNN, FOX news, and the New York Post reporters falsely conveyed information about the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. 

April 19, 2013

When it comes to the lone gunman who goes on a killing spree however, reporters will seldom find anyone who knows them intimately enough to extract the intricacies of their psyche.  Those who had any relationship that lasted more than a month will often state how it never dawned on them that they would kill anyone but those who barely knew the killer “always suspected they were capable of going off like this.”  But likely all the reporter is looking for is the anger many of us feel at such senseless slaughter and hopes that one of these people will dramatically display this for them on camera.  Why would that be considered newsworthy?

These interviews try to reveal a side of the killers that meet our expectations of evil characters found in the latest crime thriller novel, movie or TV drama.  Few if any of the people in real life who get approached by the media really knew the perpetrator well enough to understand what made them do what they did.  They’re a waste of our time unless of course you’re looking for the pat answers that address some preconceived notions about such people.  Many think they have a set of skills that allows them to understand why these highly disturbed people act out the way they do and its all been based on their devotion to John Grisham novels or years of watching Law and Order each season on TV.

Oh how I miss real journalism!

Like anyone else I am horrified when such tragedies occur, though I must confess I am becoming less emotionally responsive by the sheer number that are presented to us in our homes via the media.  I want answers because such seemingly unwarranted violence doesn’t register with me most times.  Why does the man who delivered my mail, fixed my car or did my taxes all of sudden flip out and go on a killing spree?  Why does the little boy who likely grew up in a relatively secure environment and had dreams like most of us develop into a madman a few years later and purchase a small arsenal with the intent of killing as many people as he can?

I want answers but I don’t want them to come cheaply.  I don’t want them to come from someone who’s not ready to divulge what they really know nor do I want them from someone who barely knew the killer but jumps at the opportunity to get their 15 minutes of fame in when an eager reporter is looking for his or her own “exclusive” that will benefit their career down the road.

I want someone who has done the due diligence and explored every facet of the crime, their victims and those who knew them as closely as anyone can.  I want the results to resemble something along the lines of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood that leaves no doubt why one human being takes the innocent life of another.  I may be impatient but that doesn’t allow some cheesy “news” reporter to exploit that weakness.  Truth about such complex human behaviors is not going to be found in a quickie interview of some individual either too traumatized to make a valid and complete assessment or one who really has no better knowledge of the why and hows but was simply in the wrong place at the right time.

Media-Disaster

The media has already lost credibility in my eyes because they consistently miss the really important issues by choosing instead to cater to the whims of a public who would rather be entertained than informed.  Corporate ownership of most news sources today also has weakened the journalistic credibility that once made the 4th estate the one institution that the public could rely on to counter the power of wealthy special interests.

So when tragic events like the Boston Marathon and 911 occur, as well as those at Tucson, Aurora, and Virginia Tech, I don’t want to be used as a means to improve ratings and increase the profits of insensitive entities who exploit a genuine human desire to get at the truth.  I don’t want to be insulted or embarrassed when I turn on the news and if I want to be entertained I’ll turn to those sources that are designed for that.

If trying to fill every minute of air time with inane chatter and rushed reporting is part of what newscasters feel is essential today in a major breaking story with such great tragic consequences, then don’t expect me to waste my time that could be better spent doing something meaningful.

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20 responses to “The Boston Marathon Tragedy and the Media Meatheads

  1. I feel the same way. This isn’t news, it’s an episode of CSI. The media will wrench the last bit of “news” out of stories like this until the next disaster comes along and then they’ll drop the previous one like a hot potato. They could barely keep up this past week. I decided to catch the news last evening and that turned out to be a huge mistake. I wasted a good half hour listening to Piers Morgan interview the goofball who was falsely arrested for sending the ricin to President Obama. They’ve made that nobody into a star. He’s writing a book! We’re a nation full of attention seekers and voyeurs. The majority of us here in America would seem to have no lives at all given the nonstop news on stories. I’m so sick of the local angles our local news people try to give these events as well. Egad.

    • One of the worst people who does these inane style interviews and has the most painful expression on her face when she does the interview is Ann Curry with NBC. An otherwise bright reporter but her faux, oozing “shared pain” expression would just turn my stomach.

      I was beside myself when “our finest law enforcement agency” blew it once again with the arrest of the ricin suspect. (Recall the Atlanta bomber back in 2000?) Public officials and the media are too often in a big hurry to gather kudos for themselves rather than doing the deep investigative work they’re supposed to be paid for. or so it seems.

  2. The word ‘hero’ is so overused, that it has come to the point that I can’t stand hearing or using that word anymore.

    You’re right about the media. The local TV stations here in the Boston area did a fantastic job, though at times, it was an endless loop of showing the same video footage, that I would just change the channel and watch the MLB Network, or something else.

  3. In the West, Texas, explosion most of the dead were volunteer firefighters (mostly middle-aged so I suspect with families). I wouldn’t label them heroes because I don’t think they would have been where they were had they any knowledge of the actual danger. (One of the reasons such plants are supposed to indicate the chemicals on site is so that firefighters will know what they are dealing with in the event of a fire. That is a regulation I don’t think anyone can argue with.)

    Also, numerous ordinary citizens immediately jumped in post explosion to try to help survivors. I wouldn’t call these heroes either, just good, solid, upstanding folks that Texas is known for.

    Why we need to glorify ordinary folks is beyond me. If we were to simply describe these things as things ordinary people do, wouldn’t that be instructive for the next generations?

    • Perhaps a better expression for normal people reacting normally under such stressful conditions is “good samaritan”; an individual who simply has empathy for their fellow human beings and does the right thing. Heroes are few and far apart and when the media uses it so cheaply the make themselves look foolish.

  4. Good work Larry! I have written about the term ‘hero’…….a hero is not someone that does what he is paid to do…..a good employee maybe…but hero….NO!

    • Thanks Dr. Chug. I was too generous on my definition of hero. It should also entail an act by someone who does it more out of a shared humanity than an act for someone they are closely connected with. When going into a situation where there is at least a 50% chance that you will die or suffer grave injury for someone you don’t even know – THAT’S a real hero. For example, on lookers who jump in deep cold water to save the victim of an accident where their car plunged off the road.

  5. I can but echo your remarks. The worst is when as “news” they decide to replay their own coverage! They did that the other day. One week later, lets return to what we were doing when we “learned” and then following a thirty minute replay of THEIR reaction. Amazing that they think that is news. It’s a testament to the fact that the 24 hour news cycle is badly in need of a reductive operation. We clearly don’t have enough “news” to fill the time slots. Course we do, but they don’t find it “viewer friendly” enough to report on….It’s all about the market share.

    • Yes, the redundancy is only beneficial when you come in late and need a recap. After that it gets old quick. I don’t know why they don’t sign off and report back when they have something solid to report. I don’t think most people would mind if you interrupted their program with NEW “breaking news”.

  6. //ow flippantly the term “hero” is thrown out there//
    precisely. It has lost meaning. I do not think a hero is a good sandwich anymore.The media? It has become a numbers game, the law of static space. Basically, we will fill what ever space is available….and there is a lot of airwave space. When there was only ‘one’ football game a week to watch, it was special….when there are 50 a week, not so much. when our choices were three network news shows, the acute competition breed a sense of quality…..no longer. Junk journalism. I wish I had a cure…. but the only one I can offer is ‘ turn off the TV’….take a walk, read a book…….

    • “I wish I had a cure…. but the only one I can offer is ‘ turn off the TV’….take a walk, read a book…”

      Exactly. Best suggestion for what ails you regarding TV viewing.

  7. Well, the Boston coverage seemed to be the final straw for me. I’ve dropped my TV subscription (and out here in the boonies there is nothing if not cable or satellite). I had almost reached that breaking point with the political circus going on, but now I have so many better things to do with my time…

    • If you have cable service Gunta, buy you a BlueRay DVD player that has a feature where you can download service on your TV for things like Netflix, Pandora and the BBC News. Some are free. Netflix has an $8 a month subscription fee and I get to watch a lot of informative documentaries and old classic movies, without commercials.

      I got rid of my cable subscription nearly two years ago and bought a digital exterior antenna so I can get the local stations. I’m saving about $125.00 a month and I don’t miss it at all.

  8. I gathered you meant internet and my little Roku does pretty much the same as your DVD player, bringing me live streaming from Netflix and I can also hook the laptop to the TV set, downloading some shows (i.e. Maddow -last time I tried it, she was still free) from iTunes. I’ve gone through several longish stretches without TV over the years. I signed up with cable about a year ago because I thought I’d give the Olympics one more chance, but it’s so commercialized these days it’s not worth the time or expense to see it. I think the last good Olympics was Calgary.

    I’ve tried fancy antennas, but I’m surrounded by hills and trees, so I don’t get any of the free reception. Nothing truly local either. I think my comment was aimed more at the fact that the stuff they serve up on TV is such crap that it just ain’t worth bothering with. It’s actually been nice not to catch some idiot shoving a mike in some victims face during this Boston Bombing thing as you described…

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