Local TV news: Exploiting the exploitable since 1955

suspicious flashlight

It has been said that television news is for crabby old white people who are afraid of everything outside their yards, but that’s likely too narrow a definition. TV news instead appears to be geared toward the easily scared of all ages and races, with its ultimate goal being to so paralyze viewers with fear that they’ll be afraid to move and change the channel.

Take a news story from Savannah, Ga., television station WTOC which detailed a Georgia man’s battle with Necrotizing Fasciitis, or, as the station hypes repeatedly, the dreaded “flesh-eating bacteria.”

According to the story, Joseph Allen was fishing in the Ogeechee River last week when he had to get into the water to fix a problem with his boat. He apparently had a sore on his arm and it became infected with Necrotizing Fasciitis. Allen is now in critical condition.

After describing Allen’s symptoms – “The arm that had the little cut on it was now purple from the wrist to the shoulder” – and including a plea from his wife to “try to get the Savannah Riverkeeper, the EPA, and government; someone involved that will clear up this river,” WTOC reported in the third-to-last paragraph that this is “at least the third case (of Necrotizing Fasciitis) reported in Georgia in the last few years.”

Wow: The third case in the entire state of Georgia – 59,425 square miles – in the past few years. And neither of the previous two cases occurred in the Ogeechee River, which stretches nearly 300 miles. I’m surprised the World Health Organization hasn’t quarantined all of North America.

Television news is great for a couple of things: Exploiting tragedies and throwing in quotes from the suffering, even if their comments add no context or visible value to the story.

If this is, as it appears, the first recorded case of Necrotizing Fasciitis in the Ogeechee River, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that there’s a major problem with that body of water. One can’t blame the anguished wife for her comments; she’s upset, is likely no expert on the ecology of the river and probably felt compelled in her time of sorrow to say something.

It’s the media’s job, however, to edit stories so the information provides value to consumers, instead of gratuitously manipulating the suffering.

Television news, though, just can’t resist a grief-stricken spouse and will run her comments, whether they’re informative or simply, as one might expect, coming from a place of pain.

Unfortunately, television news isn’t the only medium pulling these sorts of stunts.

Reuters recently reported that the death toll from an Ebola outbreak in West Africa has risen to more than 600 since February.

Again, a disease with a scary name gets big headlines. What’s unstated is that during the same time, malaria has almost certainly killed many times as many people in West Africa, which is a pretty large place.

The World Health Organization estimates that in 2010, for example, there were 219 million documented cases of malaria. In that year, malaria killed between as many 1.2 million people, many of them children in Africa.

But malaria isn’t a headline grabber like Ebola, what with the latter’s symptom of severe internal hemorrhaging.

Between 1976 and 2014, fewer than 1,000 people a year have been infected with Ebola, according to the WHO. Three times as many people die of malaria around the world every day, on average.

One wonders what television news and other sensationalistic journalism outlets would have done during true crisis events such as the Spanish flu pandemic or the Yellow Fever epidemic that killed 10 percent of Philadelphia’s population in 1793?

Probably made things even worse by mixing their doom-and-gloom approach with watered-down fragments of actual useful information. Per usual.

(Top: More local news idiocy. A suspicious flashlight is highlighted by a Phoenix television station.)

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6 thoughts on “Local TV news: Exploiting the exploitable since 1955

  1. all about the sensationalism and the ratings equalling ad dollars. hard to find honest and objective news ever since news and entertainment departments were combined.

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