I don't need to know exactly what killed Jack Layton, nor should you
On the first anniversary of Jack Layton's death, some in the media are making an issue over the cause of his demise.
Today, I read an earnest article in the mainstream media, which tried to manufacture a debate over whether Canadians deserve to know what type of cancer felled the former NDP leader.
The usual arguments were bandied about: officials reveal this type of information in the United States, the public has a right to know, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Layton's widow, Olivia Chow, has maintained that there's no upside in providing more details because it would only discourage those who might be battling the same type of tumour.
This discussion really speaks to a larger issue: the nearly necrophiliac obsession with death that seems to have gripped the media industry in recent years.
Truthfully, we don't need to know which cancer killed Layton. However, some journalists and their assignment editors have become so accustomed to covering fatalities that it seems perfectly reasonable to want to demand the details in the name of accountability.
Sometimes when I watch a local TV newscast on a Sunday night, I marvel over how many of the stories revolve around death. On a few occasions, I've turned the dial on a radio talk show when I've felt a creepy sort of media necrophilia emerge in an interview.
Part of the reason we get so many of these stories is because death sells. For proof, pick up a People magazine immediately after some two-bit celebrity expires and see how much attention is lavished on someone you forgot even existed.
Another reason is that each of these stories about a person dying can be very compelling. My problem isn't with the bereaved relatives; it's with the sheer volume of fatalities in the news.
Keep in mind that deaths are relatively cheap and easy to cover, which appeals to the media in an era of diminishing news budgets.
There's lots of file footage in the case of celebrities like Layton. If it's a violent death, the police are always ready to offer comments. And for the people directly affected, it's one of the most important events in their lives.
After a while, though, it can become a little mind-numbing and depressing, particularly if all these deaths come at the expense of good public-affairs journalism.