High Ratings at a Human Cost

High Ratings at a Human Cost

“I watch the catastrophe play out on television. In Japan, a baby is lifted from the rubble and swathed in a...


“I watch the catastrophe play out on television. In Japan, a baby is lifted from the rubble and swathed in a blanket. A young woman is bleeding. An unconscious man is strapped to a stretcher. The streamer at the bottom of the screen says: ‘Victoria Beckham expecting a girl … Aerosmith, J-Lo both slated to appear on ‘Idol’ … Tiger Woods to appear on ‘Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.’ 

“[A]ll tragedy is promoted on television as if it were entertainment: the trial of O.J. Simpson for a grisly murder, the car-crash death of Princess Diana, Chilean miners trapped below ground and yes, even the combination earthquake-tsunami-nuclear calamity in Japan. It is the nature of TV that everything is promoted the same way, no matter how ghastly the event.

“There are rewards for doing so. According to FishbowlDC, ‘The Japan tragedy sets a new record for CNN.com with more than 60 million viewers watching.’”

—Roger Simon, Politico columnist, “High ratings at a human cost,” March 2011

Image: “Cocooned Against the Cold,” by Damir Sagolj, Reuters. Swaddled in blankets, evacuated tsunami survivors try to keep warm in a Japanese Red Cross hospital on March 13. See National Geographic, “Japan Tsunami: 20 unforgettable images.”

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