cover image Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death

Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death

Susan D. Moeller, D. Moeller Susan. Routledge, $95 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-415-92097-1

""Compassion fatigue""--the dulled public sensitivity toward crisis--isn't inevitable, asserts Moeller, director of the journalism program at Brandeis. But formulaic and sensationalistic news coverage promotes it, she claims. In four worthy but somewhat belabored case studies, Moeller analyzes major American media coverage of recent crises, such as the Ebola virus, Ethiopian famine, the assassinations of Sadat and Rabin, and ""death camps"" in Bosnia. In these stories she found certain things were emphasized, others ignored: coverage of sensational disease, she notes, obscures more ordinary killers; images of starving children overshadow political causes for famine (and famines without photo opportunities are often ignored); the ""Americanization"" of assassination emphasizes that killers are crazy, rather than politically motivated; and lack of a simple heroes-and-villains story line obscured the Kurdish tragedy. The solution, she argues in an earnest but pollyannaish conclusion, is for the media to invest in international coverage, aiming for nuance and quality over sensationalism. More valuable for its analysis of what's wrong than on how to make it right, Moeller's book could have been made more helpful still through a brief comparison with media in other countries. (Nov.)