So now it looks like the “D.C. Sniper
” has been caught. Perhaps some of the hysteria people have experienced over the last few days will finally die down.
One of the cases Michael Moore makes in his film “Bowling for Columbine” is that America is a violent society because the news media creates a culture of fear. There’s no greater example of that than how the local media here in D.C. has treated the sniper case. The general message has been: “There’s a sniper out there folks, and he’s after you and your children.”
But the reality of it is that more people in the D.C. area die a month from things like cancer and traffic accidents than they did from the sniper attacks. One woman came into my office yesterday saying she thought she personally was going to get killed -- or our boss’s child. I tried to calm her down and explain that she has a better chance of dying from being hit by a drunk driver, or having breast cancer than she does being killed by the sniper, but she wouldn’t back down.
“There aren’t people in cars trying to hunt me down,” she said. “But there is a sniper hunting me down. It could be anyone he gets!”
”But anyone could also die in a traffic accident,” I replied. “I could walk outside for lunch, and someone could hit me in an intersection. It happens all the time.”
(As an aside, just two months ago I was walking back to work from lunch, when I saw a car turn a corner and flip upside down, crashing into a parked truck. If I’d been in the intersection where it happened, and they’d hit me, I could have very well been dead -- I thought about bringing this up to my coworker, but I doubt she’d get the point I was trying to make.)
After about a half hour of arguing she was getting progressively angry with me, and I could see I wasn’t getting anywhere. It’s terrible how the news can generate such terror in people -- they’re really irresponsible in how they report these things. The implication is always that you, the viewer, are destined to be a victim. If it’s not the sniper that gets you, then you’ll die in a terrorist attack. Maybe al Qaeda has a dirty bomb they’re prepared to set off on K Street during rush hour?
It all reminds me of a great skit on Saturday Night Live a few years back -- Jerry Seinfeld was the host. They spoofed a local news program, and the headline was “Your furniture may kill you -- find out how!” Of course, they held back the “headline” until the end, when it turned out to be of little importance. But watching the local news, you can tell that fear is what gives them their ratings.
“Do you know where your children are? They may be at the local ‘rave’ danceclub Buzz -- doing drugs and having wild homosexual sex. Find out more tonight on Fox News!”
That’s a real headline -- though I’m paraphrasing. The sniper reports were like that, too, only they gave updates every fifteen minutes or so -- even when there wasn’t any news to update. “The sniper is still out there, Bob. And he’s hungry for blood!” It’s ridiculous. I really hope it’s over. I’m sorry those people died, and I’m also sorry that so many others (including myself) have lived in terror for the past few weeks. But the news media could have been more responsible about how they reported it -- caution is one thing, but selling people fear is quite another.