Minding the Matter of Media – Siegel

Trouble arose in our North American neighbor recently. Aspiring terrorist-to-be Michael Zehaf-Bibeau stormed the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Canada and shot Corporal Nathan Cirillo dead, only to be shortly apprehended by now-national hero, Kevin Vickers.
The most surprising aspect of Canada’s coverage of the event is the fact that it remained straightforward and true to available facts from the very beginning. Peter Mansbridge, the anchor for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, even admitted on air that the details were unclear and that things were tense, but he continued forward with a calm, professional grip on everything — a shining example of ideal television journalism.
Also worthy of note is the fact that Canada focused more on the death of Cpl. Cirillo rather than the actions of Zehaf-Bibeau. Speeches were given in Cirillo’s honor and the country as a whole seemed to mourn his loss. The only real details anybody felt the need to know were the fact that Zehaf-Bibeau had relations to ISIS and had a previous history of crime; everything else focused on Cpl. Cirillo and the public support for his family.
This is a drastic departure from coverage of such events in the United States. As opposed to handling things delicately, most major news organizations break out the bloodhounds and sleuth out every detail they possibly can as soon as they can, resulting in a wild frenzy of conjecture and false claims. A good example of this sort of behavior would be the recent death of Robin Williams; instead of letting his family mourn his death in peace, ABC News sent out a helicopter to rudely survey their home, perhaps believing that video footage of their roof would give them an edge over their competitors.
There are two reasons why this brazen, disconnected way of reporting the news is detrimental to the American public. First and foremost, jumping on every disaster story bandwagon possible desensitizes people to violence. I remember sitting in my dorm’s common room watching reports on the recent shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Washington and seeing just how uninterested my hallmates were, as if unnecessary death is a completely normal thing to hear about in the United States.
Second of all, with the frequency of such events in the United States and the aforementioned desensitization, people care much less about the victims and much more about the killer. Back in May, when Elliot Rodger killed his roommates and assaulted a number of local sorority girls, most discussions were only about Rodger’s motivations; the most recognition the dead received were kitschy, disinterested obituaries. When compared to the Canadian coverage of the Ottawa shooting, it is somewhat disheartening.
There’s not really any explanation for the aloof way American news handles depressing events. One might argue that the sheer number of things to report on with negative content will inevitably lead to public apathy, but remember that the Ottawa shooting was not the first shooting to ever occur in Canada’s history and it was still reported in a courteous, objective way. And while giving the same kind of heartfelt praise Cpl. Cirillo is receiving to each unfortunate soul killed in the United States — given the sheer number of them — it would be excessive. There is certainly a more respectful way to handle things than the ham-handed methods American broadcasters employ.
While the status quo is not ideal, it should also be remembered that American journalism has taken many different forms over the years, from the emergence of muckrakers to the objective. Given time, the way that stories are reported will certainly change and hopefully it will be a change for the better, but for the time being, the public must live with a news environment that deals with loss of life as a source of revenue rather than a real problem.

Evan Siegel is a first-year literary journalism major. He can be reached at ejsiegel@uci.edu.