Moller, director of the Journalism Program at Brandeis University (Shooting War, 1989), offers a subtle analysis of how...


"COMPASSION FATIGUE: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War, and Death"

Moller, director of the Journalism Program at Brandeis University (Shooting War, 1989), offers a subtle analysis of how media coverage of foreign crises and tragedies numbs our ability to care. Disease, famine, war, and death intrude on our lives daily in the words and images of television, newspapers, and news magazines. Genocide in Rwanda, death camps in Bosnia, famine in Somalia all blend together in an unending deluge of despair. We purportedly reach a point when we can no longer take it all in or react with outrage and concern. Thus we reach ""compassion fatigue."" And according to some, in response to this fatigue, the media offer us news coverage that is superficial and formulaic. Moeller, however, reverses this causality by arguing that compassion fatigue is actually caused by the media and how they cover foreign crises. Disasters run together in the mind because they are covered in the same, stereotypical way: Famine is images of starving children rather than complex events with myriad causes and possible responses. The ""Americanizing"" of tragedy, the use of metaphors that evoke American experiences and knowledge, simplifies crises, leaving us no context in which to understand their singular importance: Whether Bosnia is explained as another Vietnam or another Munich, we learn little of the historical roots of that conflict. And the media's sensationalizing of events demands that the next event be presented in even more horrific and drastic ways. The public both remains uninterested in what is omitted (no news, for instance, on the possibility of famine) and becomes stupefied by the endless suffering that is presented. The media might put tragedies in historical and cultural context, show us the subtle dimensions of foreign events. Yet this all requires reporting that is daring and innovative--the kind of reporting that is too often missing in contemporary news coverage. With careful scholarship and nuanced argument, Moeller presents the image of media that have simply stopped doing their job.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 1998


Page Count: 400

Publisher: Routledge

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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