(A few episodes back, On The Media asked its Twitter followers, “What do you want from news coverage of tragedies like the Boston Marathon Bombing?” Our response didn't make the final broadcast, so here it is instead.)
Dear Brooke Gladstone,
Last week, you asked your followers on Twitter what they wanted from the news coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. Though we follow you on Twitter, we didn’t catch that specific tweet. Here’s our belated answer for what we wanted from the news coverage:
I would watch the news if, between footage of carnage and talking heads, the anchors interrupted to provide the viewers context. And not “context” completely devoid of facts and history. Context like...
- A graph of all the people who have died from terrorism in the last 40 years. And next to that a line graph of all the people who died from gun violence in that same time period. (Props to Chris Hayes.)
- A reminder of all the forgotten acts of terrorism that occurred before 9/11. (Like the bombing of a Laguardia terminal in 1975 that killed more people than Boston. Or even of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing. Or even the Atlanta City Olympic bombing.)
- A chart showing just how safe the U.S. is compared to almost every other country on the planet.
- An explanation of how many marathons are run every year in the U.S., and how few terror attacks occur during them.
- Another chart could show how safe the U.S. in a chronological sense, showing how much safer America is than 40 years ago.
- Psychologists explaining the principles of recency bias, confirmation bias and selection bias to explain that the newscasters themselves are over-interpreting this one event to serve an immediate narrative and drive viewers.
Our news coverage has helped make Americans fear terrorism way out of proportion to its actual danger, exactly what terrorists want. We want news coverage to do the opposite.