How many times do we have to hear the same -- literally, almost exactly the same -- stories about "our hearts go out to the families," about how "neighbors displayed yellow ribbons, lit candles and displayed American flags." A liberal news site sent out an email saying "we are all in this together."
To what end all this empathy? It may reassure us that humanity continues to shine through at tough times, but don't we already know that?
Some might say that stoking a "show of unity" is a principal responsibility of the American media. But is that really the purpose of journalism?
The definition of journalism I find most useful is, simply stated, the production and dissemination of news. And what, exactly, is "news"? Here's one definition from the Oxford English Dictionary: " Newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events."
Is it new or noteworthy when people act in expected ways and say expected and indeed almost identical things in new situations?
Substitute for Substance
In today's economic and journalistic climate, resources for newsgathering are extremely limited. It's not surprising that the bosses go for quantity over quality. Much easier to collect a bunch of sterile or hackneyed "public reactions" than to ask the tough questions or do the hard digging.
When an event like the Boston bombing gives rise to wall-to-wall coverage, it fills our bandwidth. It exhausts us. It blocks out our ability to focus on anything else. At least, if we're going to give up on everything else, is it too much to ask that the coverage contain some useful information?
What Gets Blocked Out
At the same moment that all eyes were on Boston, in Washington, legislation imposing restrictions on assault weapons and ammunition clips, along with efforts to require the recording of sales of murderous weapons, were under merciless assault by the NRA and its allies. Indeed, the proposed laws subsequently went down to defeat. As horrible as the death and destruction at the Marathon, it pales by comparison to potentially avoidable gun violence, with literally thousands of times as much carnage. Put another way, the toll in Boston was a compressed version of that occurring during a single ordinary week around this country.
Call the Senate vote bad timing. Just like the atypical rampage the week before in which a "nut" used a knife instead of the standard-issue assault rifle. How atypical? Very, says USA Today in an article, "Mass Knife Attacks, Like at Texas College, Are Rare." Yet, at the time of the Senate vote, opponents of stronger gun laws were beneficiaries of this statistically anomalous but dominant news story.
Those who still will not do anything after Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Newtown ad nauseum had "cover" from the Boston bombing to not make hard choices.
Of course, a real nut, seeing the kind of coverage lavished on the Boston bombings, would be more, not less likely, to want to generate such a hullaballoo.
Double Standard on Tragedy
We repeatedly fail to see how such media circuses feed the sickness. It's an uncomfortable topic, but you can be sure that every assigning editor was aware that the Boston Marathon story had all the elements of high ratings: Families gathered. A hallowed sports event. Children. People of all backgrounds. A popular city and site.