Last month the city of Boston was victim to a terrible tragedy. Two young, misguided brothers detonated two bombs, nearly simultaneously, at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. And while the attacks themselves were an act of terrorism, the news coverage surrounding them was far more terrifying.
Consider the attack: two bombs fashioned from pressure-cookers detonated at one of the country’s most beloved races, killing three innocent people and injuring 264 more. A travesty, in the most raw and unrefined sense of the word, but what was the goal of the attackers? Was it to kill or injure as many people as possible? Yes, but at the same time, no. Like all terrorist attacks, the end game is to inspire fear-not only in the immediate bystanders, but in everyone.
The attack itself was enough to incite fear, but as the American attention span is notoriously short, it alone would not be enough to maintain the initial fear for very long. Fortunately for those hoping to attack the United States, our major news media outlets-MSNBC, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX-can be consistently counted upon to exploit a tragedy for ratings, despite the potential ramifications.
It’s been three weeks since the attack and still new stories can be found daily, printed in the crisp pages of every major newspaper and filling the conversations of TV’s most loquacious talking heads. Countless headlines advertising reprinted stories have turned what was a singular, horrendous attack, into an almost blanketed sense of impending doom.
On April 17, only two days after the attack in Boston, a fertilizer plant in the small town of West, TX-18 miles north of Waco-exploded killing 14 people and injuring more than 200 others. Even on the day of the explosion, the story shared the front page with continuing coverage of the situation in Boston. By all accounts, the explosion in West was more destructive, more devastating and it took more lives than the Boston attack. But in the last three weeks the fertilizer plant explosion has all but been forgotten. And it’s not due to the explosion being any less of a travesty, its resonance, or lack thereof, in the minds of Americans can be attributed to the story’s coverage; it painted the headlines for a couple of days and then receded back into the fog of every other “newsworthy” story.
For the attack in Boston, the media has become something of an amplifier, turning one significant but relatively small attack into the next 9/11. I don’t mean downgrade the significance of the attack. Any attack on American soil, especially one targeted at something as high profile as the Boston Marathon, is worthy of news coverage. But there is a point when such extensive continued coverage becomes more hurtful than informative. If the attackers’ original intentions were to sew fear into the fabric of America, then the relentless, round-the-clock reprinting and retelling of an attack that happened 3 weeks ago does nothing but help gestate the initial fear into full-on terror.