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Definition of News defined by Death Count?

We're obssessed with plane crashes and bridge collapses, yet we pay little attention to the stuff that kills the rest of us.

On any given day, an average of 148,000 people will die. That means over a million people have died in the last week. Nearly 5 million have died since around this time last month.

Other deaths and possible deaths we've heard about since then include the 11 victims found so far in the Interstate 35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis; the six miners missing and three rescuers killed in a Utah coal mine; hundreds dead in the earthquake in Peru. To a somewhat lesser extent, we've also heard about 100-plus troops and the 2,000-plus civilians reportedly killed in the Iraq war in the last month.

Based on estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were about 3,500 automobile-related deaths during that monthlong period. U.S. cancer deaths hover around 42,000 a month. As for heart disease, the American Heart Assn. tells us that someone dies of cardiovascular disease every 36 seconds. And that's just in the US.

As staggering as these numbers are, they don't seem to scare or interest us nearly as much as things like plane crashes, mountain lion attacks, deadly roller coaster mishaps or avian flu. And because the news media is savvy about (and complicit in) our fears and fascinations, we are fed an endless supply of death news that has little to do with how most people actually die.

It may be an act of denial, but it's also an act of self-protection. Figures from the National Center for Health Statistics suggest that the lifetime odds of dying in a plane crash are about 1 in 20,000. Those same figures put the chances of dying in a car accident about 1 in 100. But is that news?

Death doesn't discriminate, but at least when it comes to the deaths of strangers, neither is it immune to certain hierarchical precepts. A cursory glance at what we pay most attention to suggests that grand spectacle rules the day. Sinking ferryboats trump bus accidents, but plane crashes, with their unspeakable, almost supernatural brand of horror, are the most riveting of all.

Mammoth disasters like the Indian Ocean tsunami aside, small-scale blight on home soil will almost always catch more eyeballs than larger events far away. As the death toll in Peru soared past 500, on TV at least, it was the Utah mine tragedy we couldn't get enough of.

Meanwhile, 3,000 people, mostly sub-Saharan African children, will die today of malaria with nary an Associated Press story to spread the news.

Are we overly selective in what is news? Desensitized? Or is it that we've been spoon fed by a media dictatorship for so long we don't have a say?


“Definition of News defined by Death Count?”