Did U.S. Media Shortchange the Texas Tragedy?

April 23, 2013 11:35 AM
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Did the U.S. media, in its rush to provide blanket coverage of the Boston Marathon tragedy, underplay the corresponding story of suffering in West, Texas?

To be specific, was it a case of the Northeast media downplaying a breaking story in rural Texas?

The toll in West, Texas, was horrifying in the wake of the April 17 disaster. Residents have finally gone back to the town that was cratered by a huge fertilizer-plant explosion that tore open an apartment complex, caused damage to a school, and leveled a nursing home. In all, 14 people lost their lives and another 200 were injured.

About 1,500 students will have to go back to school in makeshift classrooms or at a nearby district.

Beyond the logistical upheaval and property damage in Texas, we have seen massive human suffering as well. "Every time I close my eyes, all I can think about is the explosion," West High School senior Edi Bostello said, according to NBC News. "People running around. People evacuating. There was one point I couldn't even talk. I just stuttered."

In another time, America might have embraced the Texas drama as its own, the way it did with the Boston event. Perhaps, if it wasn't a case of a cultural bias, it might have been a case of the U.S. media grabbing hold of a riveting story that had undeniable historic value -- and was unfolding right in front of reporters' eyes. 

Plus, the Boston realism contained the word that the media love to explore: Of course, the Boston Marathon MANHUNT contained enough twists and side plots to fill out an HBO mini-series. 

The questions hanging over the story seemed endless: Why did the brothers do it? What accounted for the change in them to be become terrorists who were determined to harm Americans n their community? 

How will this latest horrendous terrorist act -- carried out in daylight, at Boston's signature event and one of America's most time-honored sports galas -- have an impact on future "soft"-target public gatherings? Can the great city of Boston come back from this tragedy in whole?

By comparison, the story coming out of tiny West contained more challenging story lines. We didn't get a firm handle right away on  what exactly had happened -- beyond the bare bones of the story -- or why? Naturally, in our 9/11 culture, any time we experience an explosion in the United States, we worry that it was another act of terrorism. While Oklahoma City had been attacked by a deranged gunman, the heartland seemed less likely to be hit than a New York or a Boston.

It proved to be much easier to dispatch a reporting crew to Boston than to a tiny town outside of Waco, Texas. Did economics play a part in the coverage decisions? Hopefully not.

Ultimately, maybe it doesn't really matter why. There were no losers, right? The public got treated to ongoing suspenseful coverage of a hugely dramatic story. The networks' ratings were goosed by the slowly unfolding resolution. We stayed glued to the tube as we watched the anguished faces of New England and tried to come to terms with the dignified rage of the citizens and the determination of the law-enforcement agents on the scene. 

But I still wish I knew more about what happened in West, Texas. 

MEDIA MATRIX QUESTION: Do you think the media shortchanged the West, Texas, story?




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