by John Moffett
A whole section of a small town in Texas is nearly leveled by an explosion; 14 known dead, mostly firefighters. Many more still missing. Not sensational enough? Definitely not, according to media analysts. When you can do a 24/7 orgy of terrorism sensationalism, why dwell on mundane accidents? That is the consensus of media analysts like Robert Thompson of Syracuse University who claimed "terrorism trumps an accident." It doesn't matter if the accident was the result of lax safety procedures, or poor regulatory oversight, or cost cutting to improve the bottom line at the expense of worker safety. It's just an accident. Move along.
The New York Times this morning had at least 8 top stories on the bombings and manhunt in Boston, and just one on the Texas fertilizer plant explosion disaster. And this is while the disaster in Texas was still unfolding with funerals and a continued search for the missing. It wasn't as interesting that people are still missing in the Texas explosion because it wasn't a terrorist event. Corporate disasters are just less interesting than "terrorism" and police chases. Imagine if the explosion had been blamed on terrorists? What would the media response have been?
This is the state of our modern corporate media. Every aspect of the Boston bombing story, every tiny background detail is lavished with column space and air time. Implications for immigration reform and every other thing that can possibly be connected to the bombing and manhunt will be discussed ad infinitum, perhaps for weeks to come. Every background detail of people even vaguely associated with the story will be reported without fail.
But notice how most of the corporate media will not link the fertilizer plant disaster to lax regulations of corporations, or to the defunding of OSHA, the EPA or other regulatory agencies. No concern about how corporations now write the legislation that goes before Congress, or how lobbyists have undue control on Capitol Hill and with the White House. Nothing on how all of this is in part responsible for company-related disasters like the one in Texas. And even when concern is expressed, it is short-lived when compared to the coverage of Boston. The corporate media don't tend to focus on what is important for Americans and our democracy, but rather what gets people to tune in and whatever brings in the ad revenues. The audience bears some responsibility, because news organizations spend time on the stories that sell. My guess is that only a fraction of readers at the Times clicked on the story about the Texas fertilizer plant explosion as compared with the number that clicked on the background story on the two brothers implicated in the bombings.
I am not saying that the Boston story wasn't big news, because it was huge. I am saying that the media obsession with terrorism when it is caused by individuals, and the near indifference to many disasters caused by corporations and lax government oversight needs to be examined closely. I don't expect this to happen though. "Media experts" agree, "terrorism trumps an accident." It's never terrorism when a company with a bad safety record causes death and destruction. It doesn't matter what the death toll is, or the level of destruction, or the degree of corporate malfeasance. If they can't pin it on terrorists then it just doesn't deserve that kind of attention.