Which Deaths Matter?
The past several months have been scarred by international crisis and turmoil, from strife in Gaza to the downing of Flight MH17 and the gruesome murders of the American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. News is so grim thatThe Washington Post recently published an accounting of what it called “the hideous carnage wreaked” between June and early September: an untold number killed in Syria (where the civil war’s death toll may now exceed 200,000, though the UN has stopped counting); more than 5,500 killed in Iraq; over 1,500 killed in Ukraine; and nearly 2,000 killed by Ebola in West Africa. Anestimated550,000 to 1.4 million people could be infected with Ebola by January in a worst-case scenario.
When it comes to the humans behind these statistics, however, not all casualties are covered equally. Researchers have found that the U.S. media gives more sustained and personalized attention to some deaths than to others. What informs the decision about whether a victim of violence or disaster gets an obituary, or is simply subsumed into a bigger number?