Sunday, March 27, 2016

Media Focus On 31 [38] Deaths In Belgium - Not 21,000 Who Died Worldwide Of Starvation That Day

Despite what any of us think about our own media sophistication, the media's coverage of 'the news' definitely impacts what we think is important.  Those with the best critical thinking skills can comb through a report and find the inconsistencies, the inaccuracies, the lack of historical or social context.  But what about the stories that simply aren't told at all?  Like the 21,000 people who die each day of hunger?

The amount of coverage given particular events affects how people think and their understanding of how the world works, and ultimately how they vote.  I thought about this as I read  a Sunday New York Times column in which Nicholas Kristoff, discusses the media's role in helping Trump win Republican primaries.  In part:
“Trump is not just an instant ratings/circulation/clicks gold mine; he’s the motherlode,” Ann Curry, the former “Today” anchor, told me. “He stepped on to the presidential campaign stage precisely at a moment when the media is struggling against deep insecurities about its financial future. The truth is, the media has needed Trump like a crack addict needs a hit. . .”
". . .An analysis by The Times found that we in the news media gave Trump $1.9 billion in free publicity in this presidential cycle. That’s 190 times as much as he paid for in advertising, and it’s far more than any other candidate received. As my colleague Jim Rutenberg put it, some complain that “CNN has handed its schedule over to Mr. Trump,” and CNN had lots of company.
The piece looks at how some of the most media savvy folks (reporters and editors) got caught up in the Trump coverage.  Some were taken in by Trump.  Most seem to have been taken in by how a Trump story boosts ratings.  And I'm sure there were plenty in the media who knew exactly what they were doing when they put Trump on prime time or the headlines.

So let's look again at our fear of terrorists and how the news stokes it.

We've had saturation coverage of the bombings in Brussels this week.  31 people died.  That's one less than the number of American citizens killed by terrorists worldwide in 2015 as reported by START (Study of Terrorism And Response to Terrorism)

Yet, 21,000 people worldwide die of hunger daily!  Yes, daily, as in every day of the year.  Can you picture a few kids, bones showing through their skin, breathing their last breaths?

Have you ever seen a headline that said, "21,000 people dead of hunger yesterday (and the day before and today and tomorrow, and  . . .)"  Of course you haven't  In fact, terrorism kills a very small number of Americans and a larger, but still relatively small, number of others per year.  Statista says that 37,000 people died, worldwide in terrorist attacks in 2015, or about about 100 per day.  Not a small number unless you compare it to the people who die of hunger each day.

For a little more perspective, here's a table showing the the top causes of death (for Americans) annually and daily.  How many of these do you see in the media?  Most frequently the ones that happen in public.  The more blood and violence, the more likely it will be covered.  The others are only mentioned if a famous person dies of them.  (I added in terrorism and subtracted 32 from the 'all other causes' stats.)

Cause of Death (US) Mostly From: Statistic Brain Total/year Total/Day
Heart Disease616,067 1,688
Cancer 562,875 1,542
Strple 135,952 372
Chronic lower respitory disease 127,924350
Accidents (Unintentional Injuries) 123,708 339
Altzheimer's Disease 74,632 204
Diabetes 71,382 196
Influenza and Pneumonia52,717 144
Nephritis, Nephrotic Syncrome, Nephrosis  49,448127
Septicemia 34,828 95
Suicide 34,598 95
Chronic Liver Disease 29,165/td> 80
Hypertension 23,965 66
Parkinson's Disease 20,058 55
Assault (homicide) 18,361 95
Terrorist Attack 32 0
All Other Causes 451,032 1,236
Total Annual U.S. Deaths 2,432,712 1,236
[NOTE:  Gun deaths are hidden in accidental, suicide, and assault figures.]

Think about how many headlines you see about these different causes of death each week.  How does the coverage affect our perceptions of the danger of each and how much money is spent to prevent each?

The World Food Program (WFP  )calculates that US$3.2 billion is needed per year  to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children around the world.   Surely the  7.4 billion people alive now can scrounge up that much.  Bill Gates could handle that for 22 years just with what he has today before he ran out of money.  And he is attempting, through his foundation, to make effective expenditures around the world.

 The White House's 2017 anti-terrorism budge   for just two Departments is $11 billion:
"provides over $11 billion for the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of State to support U.S. efforts to continue to hunt down terrorists; provide training and equipment to forces fighting ISIL on the ground; help stabilize communities liberated from ISIL in Syria and Iraq; disrupt ISIL’s financing and recruitment; strengthen our regional partners, provide humanitarian assistance to those impacted by the conflict; and support a political solution to the Syrian civil war."
Global Terrorism Index 
Note:  This is only Departments of State and Defense.   This does not include the Departments of Homeland Security or Justice. (Finding a simple map of agencies with counter terrorism missions is not easy.)

But we don't need Bill Gates or the US Government.  A list at Mental Floss tells us that Americans spent in 2011:

  • $34.6 billion on gambling
  • $4.2 billion on perfume
  • $11 billion on engagement and wedding rights
  • $1.7 billion on Valentine's Day flowers (that's just one day!)
  • $25. 4 billion on professional sports
  • $18 billion on credit card late fees

And world wide people spent

  • $5 billion for ringtones

That comes to $100 billion a year!  I'm not saying people should give up all this, but  I suspect that some clever social media entrepreneurs should be able to figure out a way to painlessly intercept 3% of that to feed the 66 millio school age kids the World Food Program estimates are hungry around the world.

We just need to know the numbers.  And the media has a responsibility to track those numbers as they write their stories and give us information that helps us better understand the big picture - not just the easiest sensational event that happened yesterday.  The media have a responsibility to put things in context and make the most significant issues we face as compelling as the stuff they focus on now.

Note:  The exact numbers of people dying of hunger and terrorism vary from source to source because of how numbers are tracked, what years are reported, etc. The numbers I've used are clearly in the ballpark.   Here are a couple of other sources I looked at.

 17,000 kids under five died daily 2013

Global Terrorism Numbers Chart

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