What’s More Important: Deaths in Tennessee Or A Failed Car Bomb In New York?

If you work in the media, apparently the answer to this question is ‘a failed car bomb in New York,’ because that is the story which has dominated the news over the last few days. Yesterday, it was the lede, literally the first item in All Things Considered on NPR, and it dominated almost every major news site (the New York Times is excused from my usual ire because, well, obviously an event that happened in New York would be of primary interest to the Times). If you are reading or listening or watching any US media outlet, you would be hard pressed to miss this particular news story.

So, let’s review: Somebody decided to try and detonate a car bomb on Times Square, and failed. Which is a good thing, the failure part, I mean. As more information has emerged, it’s clear that if detonation had succeeded, injuries and possible deaths would have occurred. Curiously, I haven’t heard anyone referring to this incident as terrorism[1. Apparently in keeping with the rule that if the perpetrator is a middle aged white man, it is not terrorism.]. But, that aside, I am pretty firmly in the anti-car bomb camp, and specifically in the anti-car-bombs-killing-people camp, so I am very glad that this particular car bomb did not explode.

A car bomb near a NATO base in Afghanistan killed a civilian on Sunday. Just in case you’re thinking that the media is especially interested in car bombs, which it’s not, because I had to do a fair amount of hunting to find stories on this. I also didn’t see many media reports on the roadside bomb that killed eight people, also in Afghanistan, also on Sunday. These stories are being treated like afterthoughts even though they speak both to the precarious security situation in Afghanistan, something we contributed to, and the fact that sometimes, bombs actually kill people because they aren’t found and defused in time.

But, ok. Let’s talk about news in the United States, for a moment. Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to castigate the United States media for focusing on a successfully defused car bomb which killed no one in the United States while ignoring deaths overseas. After all, the media here does tend to focus on stories that occur in the US, with stories on things that happen elsewhere added as an afterthought (unless they involve United States citizens, in which case they will be front page news). Fine. The United States is not the only country which tends to focus on itself in the news.

Let’s talk about the floods in Tennessee, which have killed at least 11 people at this point. To NPR’s credit, it did mention the flooding, four minutes into the broadcast, before returning to the car bomb story. In detail. With interviews. I probably would have missed the story altogether except that I happened to have my ears pricked, and I’d been thinking about the flooding because some friends elsewhere on the Internet had brought it up.

Flooding in downtown Nashville. A street is completely filled with water.

Photo by Flickr user president raygun, Creative Commons License.

I get it, you know, this isn’t as exciting as a car bomb on Broadway. 11 people dying, also not as exciting as a street vendor doing what any sensible person would do and calling the police when he spotted a vehicle that appeared to be smoking. These floods are, by all reports, the worst since the 1970s. Nashville will be looking at very high costs for recovery and will probably be dealing with the aftermath of these floods for quite a while. That’s surely worthy of more than a quick soundbite at the top of the hour, don’t you think?

In addition to deaths now, people may experience illness in the future as a result of mold, which tends to follow flooding. The downtown business district in Nashville is probably going to be hurting, because that’s what happens after a flood; it takes time and money to rebuild businesses and even with insurance some businesses will probably not recover. These floods, in other words, are going to have an impact that will reverberate for some time to come.

People died. I do not know how else to say that. I really don’t.

And I don’t know how else to say that, all over the world, car bombs are successfully constructed and detonated and they kill people. On a pretty regular basis, actually. New York City really lucked out here with a car bomber who apparently didn’t know how to make a car bomb. And I’m not saying that this is something that shouldn’t be reported on; it obviously should be, it pertains to security in the United States and it, like the Nashville flooding, may have a chilling effect on business. But I could do without the extensive attention the media are dedicating to it, because, well, more important things are happening in the United States right now, and in other parts of the world, right now. It’s not that this is unimportant, at all, it’s that this is of less import than some other things that are going on that we are not hearing about because everyone is too busy covering the car bomb.

People in the United States are, not unjustly, accused of being highly self centered. The attitudes of the media in this country certainly do nothing to dispel that particular accusation. The media are extensively and intensely obsessed with an event which, in another country, would be a nonevent and a cause for mild celebration; hooray, a car bomb that didn’t explode and kill people! And we can’t even muster up the compassion to care about deaths in our own country.

‘If it bleeds, it leads,’ the old saying goes, but that’s not actually the case. ‘If it takes place in a city that regards itself as the cultural centre of the United States, it leads’ might be more accurate.

2 Replies to “What’s More Important: Deaths in Tennessee Or A Failed Car Bomb In New York?”

  1. The car bomber is going to face terrorism charges, after all. But you were thinking along the right lines — it seems that the terrorism charges have only come up since the suspect was identified as Pakistani. Would’ve been very interesting to see how the events played out if the suspect actually had been a middle aged white man.

    Thank you for writing this post. I live in NYC, where it is impossible to escape this news story (which, as you point out, is not the most important current event of the week). It’s good have this kind of perspective.

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