Thursday, April 19, 2007

Death in Context

Just below, Jon writes about the Virginia Tech deaths in the context of the hundreds of Iraqui deaths that happened, and were largely ignored by our media in the same day. Jon points out that one reason that the media has given more coverage to Virginia Tech is obvious -- an American media favors an American story for its American audience. It's true.

But I wish it didn't go as far as it does. When I read Jon's post, I was reminded of the media frenzy surrounding the death of a young, white American girl in Aruba. That story was also important in that what happened to her was a tragedy, but it also got outsized media coverage.

Jon said, generally, that the American media is biased towards American deaths.

I wish it were nothing more than that. Unfortunately, what members of the American media try to do, when selecting their stories, is to appeal to what they perceive their audience to be. "White girl lost in Aruba" is a compelling story. But it was covered to a far greater extent than stories about minority women who go missing, even within our borders. Why more for the girl in Aruba than for a girl in the Bronx? Why more for 32 Americans than over 200 Iraqis?

Well, as I said, a member of the media considers the potential audience. And when you imagine your audience, you imagine them as extentions of yourself. And the media is largely made up of a bunch of middle class white guys, so we imagine that we should report for middle class white guys, even when we try not to. It's just psychology.

A psychology that skews coverage, without a doubt. First, the local takes precedence over the international. Then, stories about white folk beat our stories aboutn minorities. Then, stories about the upper and middle classes beat out stories about the poor and working poor...

It's not intentional, but it happens and it's significant.


At 7:59 PM , Blogger Jon E. said...

I agree with this. I think this is a big part of why--as I mention in my post on the Tech killings--the media in this country react so keenly to, say, a suburban high school shooting that kills eight but don't react with anything like the same intensity to ten people of more or less of the same age dying over the course of a year (or to a school bombing in Baghdad that "only" kills twelve). But I think the other problem is that our media, like us, is kind of dumb most of the time and only reports on spectacular events. Eight killings in one day are spectacular; one death per month isn't. (Of course race and class plays into that too--a shooting per month in Bel Air WOULD get huge national headlines. A shooting a month in Compton might get, ironically, bullet-point mention on page eight of the LA Times metro section.)


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