Jewish World Review August 23, 2002 / 15 Elul, 5762

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Cut it out already, media! | Relax.

There's been no explosion in the numbers of children abducted and murdered by strangers. In fact, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports a slight decline over this same time last year. Your children are not at increased risk.

If you're wondering why it seems that they are, I can give you the reason in two words: news media. Electronic news media, in particular. A lot of English majors with, literally, too much time on their hands. And a need to fill it by any means necessary.

Last year, you will recall, the filler of choice was sharks. A summer of highly publicized close encounters of the toothy kind left many of us convinced great whites had it in for us. The beasts were implicated in a series of maimings, bitings, muggings, carjackings and insider training scandals. I, personally, was scared to answer the door after 10 at night for fear it might be a shark.

No less an authority than Time magazine even declared 2001 "The Summer of the Shark." Actually, it turned out to be "The Summer of Terror Targeting America While the FBI Fumbled for Clues Like Ray Charles in a Dark Room." But let's go with that shark thing, shall we? Do you know how many unprovoked attacks the "Summer of the Shark" produced? According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, there were 76. That's for the entire year, throughout the entire world - and only a fraction were fatal. Plus, that number represented a slight down tick from the previous year.

Surely the sharks are still biting this summer, but they've been all but ignored by the news media. Shark attacks are so 2001. We've moved on. Welcome to the "Summer of the Kidnapped Kid."

Time hasn't run that headline yet, but I'm expecting it to any week now. It's the only thing missing from a summer during which we have been inundated with stories of children snatched from the bosom of home by persons unknown. And we are dutifully unnerved, so that the same folks who last year were feverishly copying down tips on how to avoid becoming shark chow are now looking for advice on how to keep their kids safe from human predators.

Which moves me to offer a warning in the interest of public safety. Forget "Beware of Sharks" or "Beware of Kidnappers." What you really need to do is "Beware of Media." Because if you allow us to, we are bound and determined to scare you to death. Look, I'm not trying to belittle the suffering of those who have lost loved ones to kidnappers. Or, for that matter, those who have been attacked by sharks. No, my only purpose is to suggest that there's been an unintended byproduct of the all-news-all-the-time culture, an unexpected result of the news cycle that never ends. Namely, that an industry whose chief product used to be information has instead begun manufacturing a new thing: hysteria.

Or maybe it's been that way all along. Certainly, there was no shortage of screaming, panic-stricken headlines back in the days when Bill Hearst and Joe Pulitzer were the men in charge. Maybe some news magazine of the time even felt moved to declare 1908 "The Summer of the Suffragette."

Still, the gatekeepers of electronic news face a challenge undreamt of in the days when paper was the only news medium. Namely, they must feed a beast that is never sated, find a way to constantly fill endless hours of airspace. Even when there is slow news or no news.

So they get creative. They use stories they might not otherwise use, stories that might once have been dismissed as having limited national interest. They repeat, repeat, repeat and repeat. They discover trends that may nor may not actually exist. And in the process, they create impressions that may or may not have any basis in fact.

There's nothing wrong with being aware that this child or that one has gone missing, nothing wrong with learning what precautions to take to safeguard children you love. But there is also nothing wrong with questioning hysteria, with seeking to understand whether the place news media are leading us to is one to which we really ought to go.

I'd have more to say, but I have to call 911 now. Someone's knocking at my door and I'm thinking it's probably a shark.

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Comment on JWR contributor Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s column by clicking here.

08/20/02: Brace yourself for attacks of the stealth ads
08/16/02: Russia, please, pretty please let the rocker hitch a ride into space
08/12/02: Racial 'colorblindness' is silly
07/30/02: Oh, to be famous
07/19/02: In Pop-Music Thriller, Jacko Takes on Sony
07/09/02: The password is 'frustration'
06/25/02: My Head And Heart Are At Odds - I Can't Watch Video Of Pearl's Beheading
06/21/02: Your kid's going to pay for cheating --- eventually
06/18/02: Stuffy 'correctness' robs races of give and take
06/07/02: A gift of the Masai
06/04/02: Now what? Use your 9/11 pain to combat complacency
05/24/02: Has your life changed since 9/11?
05/19/02: New world disorder is nothing to smile about
05/14/02: White men can jump, so why do black kids come up short in the classroom?
05/03/02: Catholic Church should be ashamed for blaming abuse victims
04/19/02: A reminder of how small the world has become
04/16/02: 100 death-penalty mistakes and counting
04/12/02: Until all the bad guys wear black hats
04/10/02: Connecting with history with hope for future
04/08/02: Just me and the boys: A black father's road trip
03/26/02: It's time to give up fighting the good fight and join the masses
03/22/02: It's not the art, it's the artist who's troubling
03/19/02: Don't ask, don't tell when it comes to police work
03/15/02: Do we have an inalienable right to TV?
03/12/02: What will we learn about ourselves as war toll grows?
03/08/02: Marriage madness --- oh, please!
03/05/02: A risk free life
03/01/02: Pentagon's idea of lying to media was breathtaking' in its stupidity
02/16/02: Will the Afghans forgive the U.S. for the beating of innocents?
02/15/02: In search of manhood, some make a fatal decision
02/08/02: Time for blacks to give the same respect they demand
02/05/02: A question of character and "unlawful combatants"
01/31/02: There's only so much a parent can influence a child
01/29/02: Mike Tyson is incapable of embarrassment
01/25/02: Acts of patriotism or acts of desecration?
01/18/02: Waiting for tears in the rain at Ground Zero
01/15/02: A little cultural respect works both ways
01/11/02: Can blacks be racist?
01/07/02: What price for the priceless?
12/21/01: An intriguing study on race
12/18/01: To err is me
12/14/01: Admit it, folks, If you've ever been 16, you can probably relate to Walker
12/11/01: Blacks-on-blacks poll is a healthy project
12/07/01: The best defense against government excesses
12/05/01: Better hoist caution flag
12/03/01: Martin Luther Ka-CHING!
11/27/01: Beauty reflects an ugly truth
11/22/01: Another reason to be thankful
11/19/01: If only they knew our names
11/12/01: Watching a 'dying' man live
08/01/01: Should a man be put in jail for what he's thinking?
07/27/01: It's your responsibility to invade their privacy
07/20/01: Is optimism for fools?
07/17/01: Everybody should have a white man

© 2002, The Miami Herald