Today U.S. and international media in Boston went ballistic in a scramble to report on what was thought to be the arrest of a suspect in the April 15 marathon bombings. Hundreds of journalists (possibly more than 1,000) swarmed the Federal Courthouse and a number of major outlets repeatedly “confirmed” that a person of interest had been taken into custody.
Less than two hours later, it was clear that nothing had happened at all.
The blitz was predictable, given the level of exceptionalism that is routinely displayed for the lives of Americans. What’s remarkable is the extent to which that special attention is now applied, and how coverage of an American tragedy so extremely overshadows all other news on the planet.
Here’s a quick summary of select acts of violence involving explosions that occurred within 24 hours of the Boston Marathon bombings.
At least 55 people were killed and hundreds wounded in Iraq on Monday. A wave of attacks in Baghdad and cross the country included the detonations of 14 car bombs and three roadside explosive devices.
Seven people died in Afghanistan when a bomb that was attached to a tractor detonated. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred in the east of the country.
At least nine people were killed and dozens more injured in Pakistan when an explosive device was detonated at a political rally in the country’s northwest. Police say the attack was the work of a suicide bomber.
Government forces in Syria continued to pound rebel-held territory with artillery and air strikes that target residential neighbourhoods. The United Nation’s estimates that more than 70,000 people have died since the uprising began in March 2011.
Dozens of people died in a car bombing and gun battle at a courthouse in Mogadishu, Somalia. Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack.
And while news of attacks carried out as part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s drone program often take a few days to make it to media outlets, there’s a reasonable chance the U.S. government dropped a bomb on somebody somewhere Monday. (Readers are encouraged to give a quick glance to this astounding infographic specific to drone strikes in Pakistan.)
In addition, people were killed on Monday in political or religious gun violence in Yemen, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Venezuela, and Togo, where the victim was a 12-year-old boy. (I know the name “Martin Richard" off the top of my head; I spent an hour last night searching for the identity of the boy in Togo, to no avail.)
One of the primary criteria for an event to receive media coverage is the extent to which it is a novelty. That’s why you read less about a war the longer it drags on; despite more people dying, there’s less of a reason to share news of those deaths.
Applied to the bombings in Boston, that criteria no doubt makes the attack an exceptionally newsworthy event. Conversely, an artillery shell destroying a family in Syria ranks low when measured by novelty.
But to the extent that that is on display this week? At the very least, it’s worth a thought.