Thursday, January 27, 2005

Media Outrage

There's a reason I don't watch a lot of TV news. Usually, it's not because I don't like seeing the bad news, but because of how it's covered.

There was a nasty train wreck in southern California yesterday that killed 11 people, and left 180 injured. It was an awful, horrible accident, but newsworthy. Reporting the fact that it happened, and the ensuing rescue effort, is important. What infuriates me (and I don't think "infuriates" is stating my feelings too strongly) is how news outlets blatantly exploit victims for financial gain.

Case in point: NBC's The Today Show opened with a news segment on the train wreck. Fine. Then, the next image I see is this poor injured woman, cuts on her face, brace on her neck, in obvious discomfort, in a studio someplace, being interviewed my Matt Lauer, who asked questions like:

"What was it like to be in that wreck?"

"What did you feel as the train was leaving the tracks and you were being brutally thrown about the inside of the speeding train?"

"What do you think of the man who left his car on the tracks that caused this horrible accident?"

The answers are simple, and anyone could give them. "Horrible", "It hurt very badly", and, "I'm angry at him for doing something stupid like that".

The next "eyewitness" was an un-injured man who was sleeping on the train when the wreck occurred.

"I woke up very frightened. There were people all around me screaming."

Really... you don't say. God help me, I think I'm gonna have a kanniption fit.

Why do new organizations stick a camera in the face of the victims, when there is absolutely NO news value involved? Why do they exploit the injured or traumatized victim? Why must they delve into the deep emotions of these poor people, in front of a national audience?

The sad truth is, I know the answer. It's the same reason "reality" programming is so popular: because people like to watch. Because it sells. And, what's sadder, when it comes to shows like The Today Show, the victim agrees to it.

Why do people feel so compelled to watch the misery and suffering of others? What is it the viewer gets out of it? Does is make us feel better about ourselves? Is it sort of a "glad it's not me" thing? Are we drawn to stories of human suffering like moths to a flame?

I'd like to think humanity had come further than to relish in the tradgedy of others, but I guess we still have a ways to go.

The old adage still holds: If crap sells, then sell crap.

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