April 19, 2007

Therapy Nation

I don't normally agree with Taylor Marsh on much, and on this post, I don't agree with everything she writes. But she makes a point that NZ Bear and I discussed just a few minutes ago on the CQ Radio show (which you can stream from the sidebar) about the almost-choreographed national paroxysms of grief following any tragedy (via Michael Stickings at The Moderate Voice):

Yesterday we were treated to a media spectacle that was as gratuitous as it was blatantly self-serving, with each cable network trying to prove they cared more, could send the most people to cover it; could set up the best on sight situation room and every single anchor swallowed his or her orders like good members of the corporate hack pack. They made sure their cameras were trained on the families and students grieving in the gymnasium, hoping to catch a glimpse of someone's loss, ripping the scab off of any privacy these people and this community could grab. We even had Mr. Bush and Mr. Kaine making sure they both were up front and on camera for the event, because they had to help the people grieve. The arrogance of some politicians is choking, isn't it? Sure they cared, but who needs a politician when your life is falling apart? What was the point of televising the community's private pain, and theses two politicians and their wives? Their wives? And why is the media sticking microphones in student faces so we all can listen to their tortured stories over and over again?

Have we lost all sense of dignity? When did our pain become something we're so proud of we need to broadcast it... never mind. We are a therapy nation now, televising our grief for all to see. It's what we now do best. But did the community of Virginia Tech need our prying eyes? It likely never occurred to anyone to ask.

Oddly, when NZ brought up this very point in our show today, the first analogy that came to mind was the celebrated film The Queen, for which Helen Mirren won an Oscar. The film gives an intimate look at the reaction of the royal family and of Britain to the tragic death of Princess Diana and the controversy caused by Queen Elizabeth for her initial detachment and reserve. She grew up in an era -- World War II -- where the British admired stoicism and reserve in the face of tragedies far more broad than the death of a family member. Elizabeth had not understood that the once-phlegmatic British had turned into Therapy Nation, where they needed their leaders to drop everything and cry along with them.

America appears to have transformed similarly, as Marsh notes rather bitingly in her post. To be fair, though, Kaine and Bush showed up to Virginia Tech because they would have received the same national outrage had they not. Unlike Elizabeth, they understand all too well that the national character has changed, and that people look to Presidents and Governors to serve as mourners-in-chief. That is driven by the media coverage, which Marsh also correctly if harshly castigates for their rush to create cool graphics and to intrude on the lives of students and others in the V-Tech community.

Did anyone ask them if we should have cameras on them 24/7?

And to also be fair, she makes a good point when she notes that the same news organizations who gave us blanket coverage of V-Tech, including Fox having Mike Gallagher argue for concealed-carry in the hallways of the school the day after the shooting, have not covered the dead and injured of Iraq in that kind of detail. I would also add that they do not cover the efforts at rebuilding Iraq, either, and that they do not give much air time to anything that lacks a really good explosion. Part of the reason for that is that news outlets don't embed any longer, and many of them do not have any resources outside of the Green Zone.

As a nation, we seem to demand this dance of grief, expecting it to move along a timeline of our choosing, with anchors and other talking-head experts telling us when the "healing process" will begin, and how to achieve "closure". My goodness, some of them started talking about healing processes on the same day of the shootings! It seems as though the nation has a greedy demand to make the grief of strangers our own, in order to connect ourselves to the real victims of the crime -- and then to impose a schedule on grief on them. In that sense, the tone of the coverage is nothing short of ghastly.

I know many are upset about NBC's decision to air the Cho package last night and this morning. Maybe we should ask ourselves about all the rest of the coverage, too.


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Comments (26)

Posted by Carol_Herman [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 3:36 PM

I didn't watch the media. SO if there was a spectacle, I didn't notice.

I'll also bet I'm not the only one who got alert to the breaking story, through the Internet.

Heck, Captain; I took your post on the subject, copied it. And, mailed it out to five people. Including my own son. That's how quick the Net is at keeping people informed.

As to the Cho pictures; Drudge has a few still pictures up at his site. And, ya know what I thought? Gee, that creepy kid? He could'a taken the hammer to the head of his mom. Or dad. It's something of a miracle that these parents weren't killed by their own son.

As to the "response" in the media, now? The numbers Drudge showed today, about six's and seven's, as ratings and shares ... looked low to me. When Kennedy was shot? Most of the country tuned in Walter Cronkite.

I'm a business-woman. I always look to see if there are red lines, or red ink, anywhere. And, that's what I've decided. Even with the coverage done by the nutworks. And/or cable. You choose. Business is "off."

While the Internet grows and grows.

The Internet is one of the biggest sources, these days, for lots of Independents. WHo don't buy the punditry, and their stink-o, self-serving, analysis, at all.

As a matter of fact, the one area where I'm curious, is at that postal stop? Nut bag stops shooting. Waits. Hears nothing. And, didn't immediately go about the next site's carnage. Nope. He went to the post office. Damn. "Going postal" just grew another meaning.

Posted by David2 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 3:47 PM

I was just listening to a press conference from Va Tech on the way home. The representative was saying there are 350 reporters there and he couldn't do interviews with all of them. It would take weeks. I think he was trying to tell them in a nice way to go away. He kept saying there's not much more information to share. Hint. Maybe it's time to pack up the circus and head out of town.

Posted by Doc Neaves [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 3:53 PM

So, Bush is arrogant for going? Can you imagine what they would have called Bush or Kaine if they HADN'T gone? I think THAT comment says more about the circus than anything. The circus is there because we demand it. Someone goes, they get torn. They don't go next time, they get torn. Now, nobody knows what the correct politically correct thing to do is. Answer: There is none. No option. No matter what, the principle is grind up Bush somehow, blame him, make him look bad, and use anything, including the school shootings, to do so. Shameless, and pathetic. Gallagher was defending gun rights? I'm thinking he was only making that side because someone had made the other side, and you can't let the challenge go anywhere it's made. But, as they said many times, this isn't about gun rights. It's about personal responsibility, and how, because we've been taught by an ever-inreasingly-leftist government not to be responsible for ourselves, our own safety. One day, Captain, you will have to address the way they have done this in area after area. Take away our responsibility, you make being responsible a dirty thing, something that just means guilty. No wonder nobody wants to be responsible.

Posted by Paul A'Barge [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 4:13 PM

Kaine and Bush showed up to Virginia Tech because they would have received the same national outrage had they not

Me +1 to this. The same liberal morons who want to flame Bush for showing up would have blamed him if he did not show up.

In the meantime, the media are almost never there to cover Bush when he shows up for wounded soldiers, and these raging, vile hypocrites never hold their media (the MSM) accountable for not covering Bush when Bush shows up.

So Taylor? Bend over and ask me if I care about you or your pathetic ramblings.

Posted by Lew [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 4:27 PM

This is the "New Presidency" that television and the "me" culture of the sixties invented. George W. Bush had no idea when he ran that he was being elected mourner-in-chief and scolder-in-chief and avenger-in-chief and all purpose emoter-in-chief for the greatest generation of rich self-centered juveniles ever to populate the world. And it all has to happen in between the commercials and be concluded before the next episode of American Idol comes on.

The medium has shaped the message - and even reality itself!

Posted by biwah [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 4:31 PM

As a nation, we seem to demand this dance of grief

Speaking for most people, I think, I would answer that it's largely foisted upon us. True, we watch, but we never asked for it. It is grimly satisfying at times to feel some emotion through the TV, but the networks always ratchet up the hystrionics and cheesiness. People don;t want it, but ultimately can't stay away.

But that's a far cry from demanding it.

Posted by Bob Leibowitz [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 4:43 PM

"If it bleeds, it leads."
"Never get between a politician and a camera."

Posted by biwah [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 4:45 PM

Lew - I think it has a lot to do with TV. Your attempt to blame the "me" culture (which has transcended politics and equally infused the conventional right and left wing) is far more nebulous. Could the boomer generation have had all of their material needs met and NOT become a bit spoiled? I don;t know, but if cable network TV got a bit zany as a result, it was hardly a simple A-->B process.

Paul: Bend over and ask me if I care about you or your pathetic ramblings.

I just have to say it: you are indeed a class act.

Posted by docjim505 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 4:51 PM

I remember when the Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up. Cameramen would stalk the casualty notification officers, following them to the homes of the dead Marines' families.

They stuck cameras in through open windows, trying to get "candid" shots of mothers and wives and children who'd just been told that their loved one was dead.

A pack of ghouls is what they are, so afraid that some other network or paper will get THE photo or THE soundbite that they'll hound and harass poor people who simply want to grieve.

I am heartily sorry for the people who suffered loss at Virginia Tech, but I did not lose what they lost. I have not suffered what they've suffered. Their grief is not my grief, and it feels a little dirty to try to butt in, even vicariously, at such a time.

Let them alone.

Posted by Blaise [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 4:55 PM

On this point, I recall the reaction, and dignity, of scots to mass killings like this. During both the Lockerbie incident, and the Hamilton incident (where a guy went into a school and murdered multiple students) the people simply asked the media to stay away and allow them to grieve in private.

Even more miraculous, the media acceded.

Posted by biwah [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 5:04 PM


A similar thing happened after the school killings at on the Red Lake reservation last year(?). Seems like mainstream Americans are fair game, maybe in part because they can't make a request for privacy in unison - we take the media presence for granted even on a deeply personal occasion.

Posted by SwabJockey05 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 5:20 PM

biwah has it right...class act and all :)

Who says anyone demanded anything? I haven't watched ONE SINGLE MINUTE of the "coverage" on TV. Am I the only one who changes the channel…or puts in a DVD…or reads a book?

Ghoul is an accurate moniker.

Posted by Doc Neaves [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 5:51 PM

No, Swab, you're not the only one, but, after finding out the relevant facts, I'm tuned out to the tragedy, too. Only because I try to watch the news (which they seem not to want to report, spending all their time on the tradegy of the tragedy of the tragedy) as a responsible adult in order to stay informed do I find my self aware of what's going on with it, and, like you, I quickly turn it back off, news, talk radio, the works.

Posted by David [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 5:52 PM

Bush is slow on Katrina and is pilloried. He shows up for this tragedy and is pilloried. Do these people even listen to themselves?

It is clear that anything President Bush does will never be enough. Proof positive of BDS.

Posted by Doc Neaves [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 5:56 PM

The demand comes from all the rubber neckers. The ratings come from somewhere, and they drive the news departments. They know what will make people watch is to be more gruesome first. Until that changes, they will continue to feed the appetite of the public.

Posted by Lightwave [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 5:59 PM

Say what you will about Fox and the other networks covering the aftermath, but as Hugh Hewitt correctly points out this entire discussion starts with NBC's decision to make a rock star out of an incoherent madman. But Ed, you and the other pundits are completely missing the point:

Here's a network that said three words from Don Imus' were over the line and censored him totally, but the 1800+ words of a man who personally butchered at least 30 people is somehow "in the best public interest" to repeatedly blare across the airwaves.

Suddenly, when it's an exclusive like this, "protecting the public from hate speech" is wrong. When Don Imus does it, it's worth dropping his show. His words were intolerable to good taste and propriety. Cho's words however are juuuuuust fine.

Exactly which person is a greater threat to the civil discourse of America?

Posted by conservative democrat [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 7:27 PM

Turned the coverage off last nite, it was way overboard. Is there BDS? Sure. Was there Clinton Derangement Syndrome? You damn right. What goes around comes around. Get over it. Clinton was 10 times the politician Bush ever dreamed about being.

Posted by Monkei [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 7:47 PM

It is clear that anything President Bush does will never be enough. Proof positive of BDS.

Not correct. This president had a unheard of 80+ approval rating when he did all the "right" things regarding Afghanistan.

How were we all to know at that time that his presidency was at its peak and that almost everything he has done since then has been for crap? I

raq has ruined his presidency, cost his party control of the US Senate, US Congress, and state Governorships ... and his inability to accept that he and his staff have made mistakes continue to plaque him ... who has the time to list them all.

Posted by Lew [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 9:00 PM


You're undoubtedly correct in saying that the sixties generation found it very easy to become a bunch of spoiled brats when all of our material needs were met, but nothing in human affairs is inevitable. We chose to react to our wealth by becoming what we are, and television and the pill and drugs and rock & roll just made it all the more seductive for us to make the choice. And its no coincidence that 1960 saw the emergence of the first "Rock-Star" President. Each of them, plus many more I can't think of at the moment, amplified the effect of all the others and continue to do so right up to the present time.

Whole books have been written on the subject (one of my favorites is entitled "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by someone who'se name escapes me at the moment), so I won't belabor the point here. I do think however, that TV is the single largest amplifier of them all because it reaches the widest audience with the most immediate and emotional impact.

Posted by unclesmrgol [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 19, 2007 9:06 PM


sometimes doing the right thing has a terrible short term price. And doing the wrong thing has a very great short term reward. This is one of those cases.

Both Senator Reid and President Bush know this -- and their actions indicate who's got the longer term vision.

In the long term Bush will be recognized as one of the great leaders of our time, and Reid will be recognized as merely a stentorian hack who just bent to the political wind.

Posted by CayuteKitt [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 2:12 AM

Tabloid TV coverage of real-time events has a lot more to do than trying to fill the 24/7 time demands for ever "breaking" news from one moment to the next.

It started a long time ago, this national affliction for voyeurism, in increments. Then Phil Donahue took voyeurism mainstream, and although there were seedy qualities to it, the show proved that deep down inside there are millions of Americans whose lives are so dull and lacking in quality that they must somehow find their entertainment through gossip and social voyeurism.

Phil Donahue tried to temper the seedier aspects of it, but unfortunately, Sally Jessy Raphael only made it seem seedier.

Then along came The Oprah. She did it with, ahem, style and class, and essentially took Social Voyeurism to new heights, literally making it not only mainstream nationwide, but she also turned social voyeurism into a culturally and socially acceptable pasttime. It was thanks, said sardonically, to Oprah, that public grieving and gut-wrenching emotional events, became a blow-by-blow happening, with followups even, for heaven's sake!

Now we have Dr. Phil psycho-babbling the events and ferreting out the deep inner psychological sources for any and all aberrant emotional, social, and cultural behaviors, adding a completely new and titillating facet to the whole social voyeurism pasttime that consumes too many people's lives these days.

The natural collateral fallout is that the media needs to reflect this huge audience's passion for voyeurism that has become accepted as a normal pursuit/slant/interest/hobby.

It will only stop once a huge number of people wake up and realize just how over the top it has become. Only when shows like Oprah's begin to loose ratings, and tabloid type news programs lose ratings, and Americans wake up to how destructive social voyeurism has become, will we finally see a return to decency and respect for other people's pain and trauma, and their need for privacy to grieve and get over whatever it is that needs being dealt with so that life can go on for them.

I have only seen clips of Phil's, Sally's, Oprah's, and Dr. Phil's shows. They turned my stomach, and I never watched the programs, in protest against the seedy side and/or intrinsically private affairs of life becoming acceptable in their exposure by the mainstream populace.

And I pray that others will use this tragic event at VT to start demanding a return to decency and civility towards others. We do not have a right to know the innermost pain and suffering of other human beings, unless they themselves have a reason and have made the choice to share it. That the MSM and Oprah and others consider this type of private grieving the public's right to know is just plain wrong.

There are people still grieving the Oklahoma bombing, and the 911 terrorist attacks, who will never be able to come to terms with it all and properly grieve over the traumas and tragedies until the various arms of media let them alone to get on with the process. It makes me heartsick watching it all dredged up over and over, year after year, at anniversaries especially, to satisfy this terrible trend in socially acceptable voyeurism.

Posted by nedludd [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 7:15 AM

I try to take a perspective on this from history. With every new way of transmitting information (Oral, mail, newspaper, magazine, radio, tv, email, bulletin board, newsgroup, chat, blog) humankind has displayed a constant need to experience other peoples lives as that made them something more than they were if they didn't experience it.

It's just that technology makes the extent and way in which you can experience it substantially different. Think of how the readers of the Hearst papers responded to the sinking of the Maine. New technologies enable new way for humans to transfer someone else's experience to them, whether it's a funeral or a wedding or a crime, we seem to be more interested in how people feel now than before. I just think technology limited our choices.

At first, it was said that "Art Imitates Life". Then along the way it was revised to "Life Imitates Art". These days I really believe it has become "Art, Life, Who Cares"

Posted by MarkD [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 7:40 AM

I refuse to watch any of the coverage. It's beyond porn. The media has fed this frenzy.

Does anyone doubt that even now some sick jerk with a grievance is trying to figure out how he can out-kill Cho? Now every anonymous loser with a grievance knows how to be someone. Thanks a lot, TV news.

Posted by Lew [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 9:02 AM

CayuteKitt, I would extend your list all the way to the "Prince of Bottum Feeders", Jerry Springer. Or maybe you didn't really want to bring us all the way down to the bottum?

nedludd, I agree completely with what you said and I would add another dimemsion as well: the persons being interviewed have their own agenda also and it seem's to me that at some level they are all saying "Its all about me and my experience. Look what I did and felt and experienced? I was frightened. I was hurt. I grieve. look at me. Its about me!" In a strange perversity the camera and the microphone invite each interviewee to star in their own little soap opera epic, and they jump at the chance.

Posted by AMR [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 9:16 AM

The national grieving that seems to be, to me, going beyond what would have been expected or understood in the previous generation. But then we didn’t have 24/7 cable TV repeating the same information over and over again; in your face journalism. In my opinion a major part of the problem is a general societal attitude of ignoring reality.

Many citizens today will not think of the “what ifs” that may occur in life and openly discuss them with family members. One is too cold if you do that. An example is what my son and I have discussed: he is serving in Iraq. I know he can die there, but he has a much greater chance of dying while driving back and forth to work on a crowded interstate. Obvious, I would be devastated by his death either way, but I would know that at least in Iraq his sacrifice would have some meaning, at least to me being a veteran; dying because someone cut him off on the highway would have no meaning what-so-ever. For the deaths of the students and professors who died at VT there is no rational reason for their deaths, so I can understand some of the societal grieving. But society used to exert more control over people who did the things that Cho did that ended up with him only volunteering to attend out patient mental health counseling. If I had lost my son at VT, I would be very angry that nothing Cho did previously caused the leadership in the medical, judicial, law enforcement or college administration to punish his behavior or do the paperwork that would have placed him on the no-firearm purchase data base; consequences, yea, voluntarily submit to counseling. He would have been arrested and expelled from college for some of the reported conduct 40 or so years ago and placed on a watch list to keep off campus. I say this because I witnessed what happened when stupid juvenile pranks were pulled at my college and 3 seniors were expelled just before graduation when warnings about members of their class’s behavior were ignored.

I have heard many in media reports stating that because of privacy rules and laws nothing could be done. That is because no one was willing to try, period. Apparently no one in leadership positions wanted to judge what Cho had done such that actions to protect the grater society needed to be taken; but I thought that was a major requirement of leaders to judge and enforce consequences. Regardless what some politicians say, life is pretty good for the vast majority of Americans and who wants to visualize that that could change for the worse or even take minimal precautions in case a “what if” event occurred. The “don’t worry, be happy” refrain should be our unofficial national anthem.

Posted by SwabJockey05 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 10:37 AM

Doc Neaves,

In case you care, calling me "swab" is a put down. I'd prefer Swabbie (or Swabby).

AMR. Good points. Last week some idiot driving a cage (car) came a whisker from running me over on my cycle. Only my superior athletic ability, eye-hand coordination and millions of dollars worth of training...(read that: "Stupid Blind Luck"), kept me from drifting off into a violent dirt nap.

The same point you brought up dawned on me that day. If I'm going to go out, I'd much rather do it while taking a few Lunatics with me.

We’re proud of your boy...I'm sure you are too! Congrats.