When Media Tragedy Overtakes the Man in the Mirror

flagsI know a man whose job exposed him so constantly to the abominations and dark recesses of the human heart that one day he looked in the mirror and could no longer recognize himself…

There are thoughts inside me that I have wanted to open up for public consideration for some time.  However, each time I have sat down to write them, a tragedy has occurred in one corner or another of our country, our world, that it has seemed gauchely inappropriate to post them.  (I thought people might think I was making light of Bombing X or Tornado Y or Gun Rampage Z, etc.)  Then I realized there would never be an appropriate time to share my thoughts, as the ubiquity and pervasiveness of tragedy is part of the very theme itself.

In the late 1990’s, I was a senior news editor in Washington DC.  For a two-year period, it was my job to oversee the transcription of the daily news cycle, first on CNN, then on National Public Radio.  I will never forget my first day on the job at CNN:  it was the day of the Capitol Hill Murders–July 1998, if I recall correctly.

I worked a 20-plus-hour shift and continuously edited the “breaking news” coverage of the rampage of an idiotic gunman who took hostage our nation’s capital–and viciously stole the lives of several human beings.

As a nation and world, we couldn’t get enough.

One month later, I found myself traveling to Seattle, Washington, for the wedding of two dear friends.  Their beautiful ceremony of love occurred in the aftermath of the U.S. Embassy bombing in Kenya.  I still feel shame from my first thought of learning the news via an airport television report:  “Thank God I’m not at work.”


The internet was nascent enough that most of us, then, were not exposed à la carte to the daily horrors of our world as we are now.

When I left Washington and moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, I threw away my television.  I couldn’t stand the news anymore.  A theory began to grow inside me.

Over time, I re-assimilated into being a consumer of media tragedy.  September 11, 2001, reintegrated me.

Tomorrow morning when we wake up, any number of godawful tragedies will have occurred in various corners of our globe.  And throughout the day, media will present us with coverage of a select number of tragic events, be they the result of Mother Nature’s coldness or human beings bent on proving we do not deserve our sentience.

But what, to me–or at least to me today–is most upsetting is that the horrors of tomorrow and the rest of the week that become an essential part of our daily conversations and concerns are the ones that media hand-selects for us.  Trust me, of the many horrors that will befall our global neighbors tomorrow, there are many that will not “make the cut” for essential media exposure.

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Arik Bjorn

Arik Bjorn lives in Columbia, South Carolina. He was the Democratic Party / Green Party fusion candidate for U.S. Congress in the 2nd Congressional District of South Carolina. Visit the archive for Arik’s campaign website, and check out his latest book, So I Ran for Congress. You can also follow his political activities on Twitter @Bjorn2RunSC and on Facebook. And be sure to check out more from Arik in his archives!

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  • Deborah Khora

    Shared! 🙂

  • Voshnah

    this article sums up why I left television news, the only exception is that when I left- I took a job in a bakery writing “happy birthday” on cakes. It surprised me that people were celebrating good things in their lives. I came from the world of darkness to realize that there really was light in the world.

    No one should work in tv news for more than two years, it really perverses your mind. I have heard that once people are in prison for ten years- they can’t re-integrate back into society- I think the same is true for television news people.

  • maria

    I do understand how looking at news can make you want to throw your tv away. as long as we know we are being hand feed the stories allows us to put things in perspective. I truly believe that people really want to help when their is a catastrophe. Many people don’t believe in helping their fellow man any longer and sometimes they may contribute if the cause it big enough. news can be good or bad. people need to take the time to find out if it is truthful reporting or not. unfortunately stories are incorrect depending on the need to be first with the story. but news can also be good. it makes us take a good look at ourselves and humanity as a whole. it can also make us judge others more than we judge ourselves. I would definitely watch a news channel with nothing but good news, or good things that people do for others. it will give us a look at the other side and boy do we need that!

  • Well said sir well said.

  • Diogenesdaughter

    I stopped watching horror movies long ago and will not watch anything violent or inhumane unless there is a VERY good reason to. Not only do these stories sway public opinion, they taint your thought patterns and introduce fears of phanthom events that “might” happen to a loved one.

    If we are to make a “good” story of the “bad event”, it must include “how you can help” or “how to prevent this from happening to you” in the summary. If neither of these is applicable, they story is not even worth telling!
    He did touch on one of my fondest wishes though; what if you could tune in to a “Good News Channel” that included stories of kindness, generosity, benevolent success, self-help and self-improvement, would you tune in? I would!
    We need ALL the positive affirmatives we can get these days. Will someone please take up the Humanity Banner and make this real?

  • Stuball

    Agree pretty much. There is really nothing to say after a tornado goes through. Its humans putting their lives back together. I was amazed that Fox, CNN, MSNBC all devoted days to it. There was nothing to say, so I watched none of it. Perhaps they all wanted a break from the Washington “scandals”, but maybe they felt obligated to some degree too.

    • C’est moi

      Stuball, most horrors, tragedies, and all of the latest celebrity hi jinks and scandals played over and over again are a form of mental masturbation. Those I cannot abide, and do NOT watch. They are absolutely.meaningless.

  • Maeve Robertson

    I threw my TV away years ago and even 9/11 did not make me want to reinstall it. Unfortunately, I get plenty of bad new on FB; however, those are balanced by humor and good news stories: The NY policeman who bought shoes and socks for a homeless man last winter, Various flash mobs of musicians who light up people’s lives for a few minutes, the OK woman whose dog appears from the rubble… Perhaps those of us on FB could each find one positive story every day and share it with others. Just so we know that there are many good people in the world, too. By the way, for 40 years I was a social worker for the state in various capacities, but always dealing with child abuse. I don’t think that made me see the world as evil. Perhaps the ability to deal with these things without going crazy is genetic. I don’t know.

  • John Clark

    I’ll never forget the day Monica-gate began. I worked at AVOC then, so it was a full day of running around hooking up temporary video feeds for this circus. I just made it out of there to catch my date night: The Great Dictator was at AFI and my partner and our buddy were waiting for me there. As I walked crosstown, I thought I passed every white van with a boom in existence. I was wrong: coming to the Watergate, I past all of the rest of them just waiting like sharks. Here in DC, we have our local rag paper. Living in PG, they never report unless it bleeds. Our neighbor wanted to post gallery openings in the calendar but was told the Post doesn’t list them here. It is sad. I really do think more people would rather read good news than bad news. Just witness all the kitten and puppy photos getting millions of likes.

  • Arthur Jeremy Pearson

    The key with this, with ANYTHING, is knowledge and perspective.

    Since the 1960s when the US government started keeping track of this sort of thing, the # of deaths wordldwide per year due to international terrorism has been about 800. That’s INCLUDING 9/11. In a world of 7 billion people, that’s LITERALLY a 1 IN A MILLION threat.

    With that perspective, reacting to this sort of “tragedy” is easy. It’s not something to worry about! It’s a compelling STORY, and the media is all about SELLING your stories… and you need to remember that.

    Another compelling story is the story you make in your own mind when you watch the “faces of death” videos of real people actually dying on camera. It’s horrific, it’s fascinating, but do your REALLY want to watch it over and over again?

    Around 800 people died last year due to international terrorism. 232 MILLION died in natural disasters.

    There’s a phrase about terrorists, and what YOU do determines weather or not they’ve WON.

    I win against terrorism every day by IGNORING IT as the INCONSEQUENTIAL, near impossible ONE IN A MILLION chance it is.

  • C’est moi

    Often I leave leave off the tv news, but find myself returning to it ‘like a dog returning to his own vomit.’ No more talk shows at least, because I cannot stand that particular regurgitation of junk food. Policemen, I’ve read, have a high rate of alcoholism, spousal abuse, and suicide. Surely the poison they must deal with daily is absorbed into their systems; then it is spewed back upon our toxic world.