Monday, April 26, 2004

Highballing the Death Toll

The recent train wreckage in Korea initially hit the wires with estimates of the dead at 3000. Since that time the real total has been re-adjusted to just under 200.

In the immediate frenzy of reporting following 9/11, the figures I remember hearing and reading were 50,000 dead, which in the ensuing days was then quickly ratcheted down to a nice even and still shocking 10, 000 where it hovered for some time. The final death toll ended up being under 3, 000.

Much has been made about the advent of 24 hour news coverage and the added competition that has resulted in a rush to get the facts out first as if this dismissive reason should make the masses of fools who lap up the sludge of information more forgiving of these kinds of errors.

Who is the fucker who initially establishes the estimated death toll, the one that all mainstream news providers seem to pick up on? Various experts associated with emergency crews and law enforcement agencies likely screw up their mugs, scratch their half empty skulls and proffer an estimate they think sufficiently fits the sombre mood of the day.

Surely the number of individuals who were present can be fairly accurately estimated but the confusion that follows seems to lead to wild miscalculations regarding the number who perished.

The trend clearly points to the fact that being incorrect in initial reporting by tens of thousands of people and/or numerous hundreds or thousands of percentage points is more acceptable than saying "There has been a terrible tragedy but we simply have no idea how many are dead…"

Or more likely, it is more preferable to go with the immediately popular figure that is leapt on by all other new agencies as opposed to being the lone media outlet to offer up the statement that is patently more logical and truthful.

The high numbers resonate and add to what, for the person viewing or reading, is little more than another in the various dramas they are entertained with in the vast swill of information that is part of modern society. It's also a pure hit to the part of our brains where our sense of well-being is realized simply because we know that the possibility exists that something horrible could happen to us but it hasn't as of yet.

This is only the most obvious example in an increasingly consolidated world of media organizations where entertainment value and ratings take precedence over due diligence. It's possible to watch in real time the associate websites of large mainstream newspapers and television news-reporting empires alter crucial facts in their headlines as a story is breaking, sometimes only a subtle spin being tweaked or toned down as if an important advertising client or shareholder has made their displeasure known.

This trend has leached into the less serious issues reported on by the media, where a cottage industry has sprung up with the sole intent of putting one over on various undisciplined hacks desperate for a story.

These hoaxsters are often so successful that the entities they create become as "real" as any other legitimate person we are supposed be interested in. The realization we may have been duped, to those few who ever find out, just becomes part of the folklore.

Imbued with legitimacy in the collective mind because of the billion dollar technology, slick production and omnipresence, media is rarely taken to task for the most shameless errors...those regarding the number of dead initially reported in large scale tragedies.

Ironically, the sheep-herd mentality of various American media outlets during the 2000 US presidential election debacle, when the rush to declare a winner may have given an edge to the clown now in power, helped to allow an even more sickening aspect of the media psyche to come to the fore; the non-reporting of untold thousands in an illegal war.

This one's for all those phantom and real dead, wherever they may be.