By Jim Mauro
What is it about tragedies that make people go out of their way to listen, read, or even watch? It seems that horrific events can bring out some questionable reactions by us human beings.
During my policing career, I had to attend cases of serious injury and death. Suicides were always a cause of hesitation for me, especially one very graphic one. It was a necessary but unwelcome part of the job. Telling a family member that someone had passed away was never easy.
I also disliked accident scenes where other drivers felt it necessary to slow down and take a long look at what took place. No concern for the safety of others was considered when drivers would slow down, strain their necks to see what had taken place while exposing others to further risk. I may have yelled once or countless times at these folks for their carelessness and their unquenchable need to look to see what had taken place.
It seems that is how we are built. We may want to watch the tragedy of others to feel better about our own situation, a sense of relief that we are safe. There is psychology to this condition, but my reaction is different. I tend to look away from these events, to avoid the sense of loss over the deaths of others. But recently another tragedy appeared to galvanize an audience. I had been working on other articles, but it was the media’s response to this recent event that made me push those aside to write this one.
Unless you were living under a rock, the TITAN submarine, a privately-owned deep-sea vessel that was taking customers to view the site of the Titanic suffered a catastrophic event. Five people, including a young boy and his father perished. It galvanized the news cycle from the day it was first learned that the sub was in trouble, till days later when it was confirmed the sub had imploded. Stories are still being written about the event with the recent recovery of part of the sub.
During the day I try to plug in on what is going on in the world, so whether it is at home with the TV on in the background, or short drives around the city doing errands, I will sometimes put on the news channels to “catch up”. The sub tragedy was being covered everywhere including CNN where every hour-long show was filled completely by this unfolding event. Each host, and each guest were looking for someone new to say something different while covering this story. To make the matter even better from a reporting perspective, this tragedy was directly connected to the tragedy of the Titanic, making the “hook” for the audience that much more enticing. I am sure news producers and advertising folks were designing ways to monetize this event.
Days into this incident, we learned that the sub had imploded within two hours of launch. Without providing many details of how they knew, or revealing too much about the equipment the US military has deployed to track enemy activity, it was likely that on day one, many knew there was no hope to save anyone that had been on the mini-sub.
That did not stop several countries from treating it like a rescue mission and massive resources were deployed to the area in a frantic search for the sub’s location. Hour after hour, updates were provided on the ships being deployed. The cost of this effort will likely be in the tens of millions. One guest commentator was speaking about the supply of oxygen on board the sub, indicating that the four-day supply could be extended if those on board took steps to conserve oxygen. I would have suspected that the exact opposite would take place as most people would be in a state of panic, having a tourist visit, turn into a struggle to survive. The families of these occupants must have been devastated to learn that from the beginning, there was no hope for survival.
There was no shortage of criticism for the owner/operator of the sub and the lack of engineering oversight regarding the standards or lack of standards the sub was subjected to. There was an interesting article written days after, offering the perspective of the sub owner that I am sure did not sit well with some as it compared the desire to push the limits of exploring the sea, to other pioneers like the Wright brothers or jet engine test pilots.
After the tragedy, the social media memes began, some in incredibly poor taste, but that is more common than many believe. Many use a dark sense of humour to cope with the challenges they face. It is certainly a common practice among the military or emergency services, where the tragedy of our human existence can play out. I can only sit back and admire those who rushed to the scene in what turned out to be a futile effort at a rescue. Many were prepared to put their safety at risk in the off chance they may be able to affect a rescue of this already doomed expedition.
But in my opinion, those news sites that covered this event hour after hour for days have nothing to be proud about. I wondered each day if anything else in the world took place during this time that may have also been newsworthy and important for people to be aware of. Let’s look at just a few other stories that were easily found with a quick google search.
The war in Ukraine was continuing, a topic that dominates many news shows that cover the centre left of the political discourse. That story vanished along with Trump, as CNN, home of Donald Trump wall to wall coverage seemed to forget about him for a couple of days. But those two topics are the norm, often filling our “news cycle” when mass shootings are not taking place. This is not to minimize the tragic death of these five people, especially an 18-year-old boy just beginning his life. This is about the news coverage that took place during this time.
From January 1, 2023 to May 2nd, 13,900 people were killed in the US by guns, an average of about 116 a day. Approximately 600 people in the US were killed by guns during the time the sub crisis was unfolding. The US is so numb to gun deaths that there is no need to hear those stories any longer. But exactly who is shooting whom? Is there any value into covering that part of the story as a way of educating the public and driving better public policy? Better to pretend it doesn’t exist I suppose.
People are even getting blasé about mass shootings. Over 200 so far this year in the US. Oh sure, if a school, church, or mall is involved it will likely get covered, but at a minimum these shootings require some deaths and people wounded. For a complete story, the “trifecta” if you will, having some people fighting for their lives so some good hospital coverage can be included is always a bonus. Have we grown so jaded, so immune to the violence that is swirling around us, that we just blindly accept it as the norm now? Only a small handful of mass shootings have been covered this year.
On June 15th, a fishing boat off the coast of Greece packed with immigrants fleeing other countries sank. At least 75 people died, including children but it was barely covered by many news agencies. No Billionaires or Titanic connection just people looking for a better life. Since 2015, approximately 18,000 people have died trying to reach Italy or Malta searching for that better life. In 2022, over 700 immigrants fleeing war and poverty trying to get into the US died due to the various challenges they faced. Perhaps if they were trying to reach the Titanic site on the way to a safer more prosperous existence, more attention could have been paid to these events.
The war in Sudan continues to wage on. We hear about this every few months or so. This little skirmish has driven 2.2 million people from their homes and killed over 2,000 in the last three months. Over 25 million people need aid. This is a quote from one news article on the story to give you a sense of what may be happening there:
The vast western region of Sudan is the site of what has been widely described as the 21st century’s first genocide, with largely Arab militias systematically killing non-Arab African groups who make up the majority of the local population.
Do not be surprised if you were not aware of this conflict, almost no one outside of the millions being targeted, left homeless, or killed, are. I won’t even touch the other wars/conflicts around the globe including Syria. What about stories that are directly related to children, when they are not being victims of mass shootings?
Well, a quick google search revealed this information. 300,000 children every year are taken from around the world and sold as slaves. It is estimated that 17,000 children are brought into the United States for nefarious reasons. Craigslist is being used by those who traffic children to conduct their business. When it comes to child pornography, a story that might be covered for ten minutes once or twice a year on most news casts, the stats are even more disturbing.
Below are just a few quotes from a brief internet search:
The production of child pornography has become very profitable and is no longer limited to paedophiles.
Digital cameras and Internet distribution facilitated by the use of credit cards and the ease of transferring images across national borders has made it easier than ever before for users of child pornography to obtain the photographs and videos.
It was estimated in 2003 that since 1997 the number of child pornography images available on the Internet had increased by 1500%.
In 2007, the British-based Internet Watch Foundation reported that child pornography on the Internet is becoming more brutal and graphic, and the number of images depicting violent abuse has risen fourfold since 2003.
I chose not to provide the more graphic detail that were there. Could more coverage of these stories lead to be better policies that target the customers of these images?
On the issue of poverty, it is estimated that over three billion people live on about $2.50 a day and approximately 22,000 children die each day from starvation. They estimate that to feed everyone on earth, it would cost between $7-$265 billion a year. The total of the top 10 miliary budgets in the world comes in at approximately 1.4 trillion dollars. Could we spare a couple of quarters, to feed some kids and perhaps lessen the risk of war. Likely not too many military jobs in feeding kids, and few if any stock options or high 8 figure managerial jobs. What would erasing hunger do to mass migration and the immigration challenges some countries are facing?
It is easy to see how some would think this article is flippant. I hope it is anything but that. I am hoping to articulate my disdain for the media’s desire to jump on a story not because it may be news, but to “hook” their audience, to stay tuned, to watch their commercials to drive their ratings and ultimately their profits. The elimination of profit from a news broadcast would go a long way to ensuring they produce information that is relevant to a population, not provide coverage designed to sell products, because that is what we are currently getting.
Now this is not just the fault of the media. We are also to blame because this is what we watch. Fox news recognized a complete lack of a news channel targeting republican voters and have captured most conservative voters for their audience. But like on the left, what is being provided is designed to keep their audience, not to inform the viewer. What is provided under the guise of news, is often slanted to ensure the audience will not turn the channel.
News stations are not presenting content based on the publics need to know, it is being driven by what their audience will watch. Reality TV at its finest. Is it any wonder that the US electorate, or the Canadian electorate has so little knowledge about the issues heading into elections. If you are reporting news based on what you think the audience wants to hear, are you a news station, or merely another form of entertainment?
News outlets have research departments, and they know that tragedy sells. Returning to an earlier comment, science can explain why we become so focused on tragic events and ignore what else may be going on. Google revealed the following explanation for this phenomenon:
- It allows you to ask yourselves ultimate questions with an intensity of emotion that is uncoupled from the reality of the disaster.
- Watching a tragedy movie causes people to think about their own close relationships, which in turn boost their happiness.
- It connects people to real life emotions.
- You can experience sadness without anxiety.
- Consuming sad stories may make you feel more grateful.
- You can consider what makes life meaningful.
I find it incredibly distasteful for a news organization to take that reality and exploit it for their own monetary gain. CNN or those other channels could have covered the Titan tragedy for ten minutes of each hour of each show and reported on other “news worthy” stories. By putting ratings and money ahead of properly informing the public on the information we need to know, they are failing the people that need that information to make informed choices about important issues.
Reporting what we need to know, would do far more for us collectively, then being bombarded about the tragedy of those five unfortunate individuals whose lives were gone in an instant. Their memory should not be showcased as an event for profit. Certainly not at the expense of the dumbing down of the viewer and the avoidance of issues that are equally if not more vital to an informed public. We are not going to receive better, unless we start demanding better. Just a thought.
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