DePRESSing Priorities – Evidence That Fear Trumps Tragedy

How happy I will be to have been wrong! Unfortunately, I was right!! On January 1, 2013 I wrote” As much as it saddens me to say it, in years to come we will all see more homicides and mass shootings in America.” There have been a number of ‘school shootings’ since the Newtown school tragedy on December 14, 2012. The latest was in Marysville WA, on Friday, October 24, 2014. And when it happened some networks broke away from regular programming to report on the tragic events. And over the last two days news outlets have had reports about the shooting. But then…

The Sunday news shows think that a school shooting is no longer worthy of conversation. I am a news junkie. I watch three news shows every Sunday – ABC’s This Week, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox’s News Sunday. And I looked forward to hearing the left/right, anti/pro NRA conversation today. I enjoy hearing debates where I know what will be said by all so that I can feel well informed, even if all that is being said is recycled garbage. However they disappointed me today – all three of them – ABC, NBC, and FOX!

None of the shows said much (I think it was nothing, but just in case someone said something tangential I use the much softer ‘much’) about the shooting in Washington state. Nowadays school shootings in America are as common as traffic accidents, and spilt milk – and it would be silly to expect the Sunday news shows to cover every accident and cry over spilt milk! And this week was also a pretty busy week – we had Ebola and Lone Wolf Attacks to talk about!

Good Americans have got used to gun violence in their schools. They understand that when a school shooting occurs the event is tragic. But they also understand probability theory and that something like this happening in their community, or to someone near and dear to them, is so small that they no longer fear school shootings.

But ‘Ebola’ and’ Lone Wolf Attacks (especially by religious zealots who belong to a religion which begins with ‘I’ and ends with ‘M’ – and we ain’t talking ‘Induism’!) are new and the American public isn’t very good at applying probability theory to see that dangers posed by either of these two is so remote that they really shouldn’t be worrying about them. Ignorance is the basis of fear, and fear is worthy of media exploitation. That explains why the news media talks endlessly about Ebola and the dangers posed by lone wolves. And it also explains why we don’t talk about school shootings after another school shooting in spite of the fact that after Newtown, CT, President Obama said, “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end.  And to end them, we must change.”

The press can either discuss tragedies we can do something about and can focus on, or they can prey on our fears. Actually, I am wrong about that – they can do both! They can walk and chew gum at the same time – they can discuss the tragedy of gun violence and prey on our fears of Ebola and crazy attacks by lone wolves! Tragically, they do the latter and not the former! And that is DePRESSing