I think the majority of the public understands this on both an intellectual and emotional level. Something terrible could happen to any of us at any moment. Such is as life on this planet has always been. If not some meat-eating predator, it could be a drunk in the on-coming lane, or an over-armed psycho blasting away in a movie theater, or someone planting bombs on a public sidewalk as people cheer on a marathon race.
But as a counterpoint to the usual media response to these events, respected security expert/blogger/Twin Cities resident (last time I checked) Bruce Schneier has it pretty much right in his AtlanticWire post on the Boston attack. In part, he says:
“We need to be angry and empathize with the victims without being scared. Our fears would play right into the perpetrators’ hands — and magnify the power of their victory for whichever goals whatever group behind this, still to be uncovered, has. We don’t have to be scared, and we’re not powerless. We actually have all the power here, and there’s one thing we can do to render terrorism ineffective: Refuse to be terrorized.
… Terrorism, even the terrorism of radical Islamists and right-wing extremists and lone actors all put together, is not an “existential threat” against our nation. Even the events of 9/11, as horrific as they were, didn’t do existential damage to our nation. Our society is more robust than it might seem from watching the news. We need to start acting that way.“
The key line, for my purposes here is, “… from watching the news”.
Based on the response from “the media”, primarily television news, you’d be forgiven if you thought the whole country had gone into a fetal tuck, shaking uncontrollably at the heretofore unimagined thought of our defenselessness and vulnerability. Within minutes of the attack the tone shifted, as it always does when these things happen, to eulogizing the victims and lionizing “the heroes”, usually the cops and first responders. Lacking sufficient resources to report anything more than press conferences and the opinions of experts, the TV news game — cable news in particular — fills it’s non-stop coverage with the simple-minded recitation that what has happened is “horrific” and recitations of the bravery of everyone involved, including the entire surrounding metropolitan area. It’s all meant to be feel-good and reassuring. A demonstration of common sympathy and comradeship ….if you’re paralyzed with fear.But it is too over-wrought and sweepingly generalized to be meaningful.
Moreover, the incessant tone of bland commiseration could very well have the opposite effect. Might it not suggest to the most impressionable that the world really is spinning out of control and that their very existence is in peril? I mean, if our savvy, worldly news readers are as freaked out and in a 24/7 hand-holding bedside mode, things must be pretty damned bad, right?
And while I’m at it, the various female correspondents for network news organizations should consider some kind of a gender discrimination suit against their employers. Are the women specifically assigned the task of asking the most treacly, emotion-baiting questions? To first responders, Boston officials, etc.: “Was the scene the worst you’ve ever witnessed”? “How did you feel when you saw that young boy?” “Are you impressed with the way Boston has come together?”
As I say, having no real resources to advance the story of who did this, the default news position is to play professional empath for a “wounded” audience.
Rather than holding and wringing hands, this crowd would serve a far more valuable service by regularly noting how rare these sorts of things are, especially in the United States. And how remarkable it is that given the simplicity of these sorts of bombs and the openness of our society this hasn’t happened since 9/11.
It’s a tragedy, yes. Like a car accident, or any of the 3000 gun killings since Newtown (our own self-inflicted form of terrorism). True, this one is of a different type and comes with an added level of mystery. But it is no greater threat to our existence.