Monday, March 23, 2009

To Judge or Not to Judge by Carolyn Haines

The most recent accidental death of actress Natasha Richardson has been poked and prodded in the media to the point that I’ve been driven to write this “rant.” The media, in a growing trend, has displayed an aggravating tendency to gloat and finger point at the tragedy of others, particularly those in the public limelight.
Even more disgusting, this is done in the guise of “safety measures” or “public education.” Bull hockey. There is something unpleasant in those who assume an attitude of superiority because fate or life has spared them a taste of tragedy.
I’m speaking specifically about two news stories that I heard/read about Ms. Richardson’s death. One story noted that “had she been wearing a helmet” she might not have been injured.
Where, oh where did this pundit of probability get his information?
I would assume that this “reporter” could be raking in mega-bucks from the insurance companies if he could forecast and predict what measures will insure which results. But the truth is, no one can make such a statement, and even more important, no one should. This second-guessing is hurtful and wrong. And the tone of the report was clearly that someone had to be blamed.
While this might not seem to be an incident worth this amount of ire, it is bigger, and deeper, than this. What this TV announcer was, in fact, saying, was that an element of carelessness was involved in what I understand to be a highly unlikely accident. The implication was that the degree of carelessness was such that it might be criminal—on the part of Ms. Richardson? The ski instructor? The ski lodge? The ski slope? The weather?
Give me a freaking break here. All of us who pursue any activity at all assume some degree of risk. (And those who chose to sit in an armchair all day are also taking on risky behavior with a sedentary lifestyle.) Driving a car can be—and often is—a fatal decision. Crossing a street can be deadly. Teaching school where germs are prevalent can bring about serious illness. Or talk about high risk, what about a hospital stay?
When I walk out to feed my horses, I can be injured. Horses are flight animals, and if they’re spooked (by some goober in my neighborhood shooting a gun, perhaps) then it is possible that I can be stampeded or bumped or accidentally stepped on.
Do I gear up in Kevlar vests, football helmets and steel-tipped shoes twice a day every day when I feed? No, I do not. So if I get injured, feel free to point the finger of blame at me and do at least two oh-so-serious stories about how I could have saved myself from injury had I only worn a hundred pounds of protective gear. Or better yet, I could have hired someone to do this chore for me. (Now, I like this thought.)
The second story made me even madder. This one involved a so-called newsperson who noted that “had Ms. Richardson gone immediately to the hospital, she might have been saved.”
I doubt Ms. Richardson’s family has had time to read these asinine news stories, but just consider that they might have. Thanks a lot. Really nice work, there. I mean Wall Street has melted down, war crimes are being uncovered, there’s a lot of news out there to report on, but let’s ignore all of that and see if we can find some negligence in an accidental death.
Surely, had Ms. Richardson felt ill or even had a hint that something was wrong, she would have rushed to the hospital. Hey, when I was fifteen, I was run over by a hayride (not exactly what one would consider a highly dangerous activity, but what can I say, perhaps I should have chosen to roll string in the living room instead) and I got up and walked around and insisted I was fine. It wasn’t until half an hour later that I realized my leg was broken. And yes, eventually I did go to the hospital. Had I—or anyone else on the hayride—realized how seriously injured I was, I would have been rushed to the hospital.
Just because someone is a movie star doesn’t give the media, or the public, the right to judge every move he or she makes. I am sick of stories that pursue actors with emotional or personal problems. These poor people can’t even ride in an ambulance to the hospital without having it blasted on network news.
Why do we even want to know this information? What does that say about us? Is this some bizarre way to validate ourselves by comparing someone else’s bad fortune?
This judgmental attitude is incredibly unpleasant, and don’t for a minute believe that these stories about helmets are an attempt to educate the public in helmet safety or the need to rush to the emergency room (where you might contract some truly awful disease while you wait the necessary 6 hours to be seen) every time you have a bump. This is something else at work here.
Accidental injury and death are terrible, and family members who survive such tragedies will be asking what they might have done differently for a long time to come. That is the nature of grief and loss. But that is a private affair, and one that the news media or public can’t answer. Nor should we try.
What we should do is mourn the loss of a fine actress. And live life with as much care as possible--while still living.


Carol Murdock said...

Bravo Carolyn! I have felt the same way about the media coverage of her death! The media is a sick
bunch who will print anything to get readers!

Keetha said...

Great post. You make some excellent points about how the media feels it is justified in taking such pot shots at someone who is DEAD. Like the family needs any more sorrow.

JennAMom said...

Oh, I do so agree with you. I am a huge hypochondriac, and have to remind myself daily that some things are impossible to explain or predict... and that when your number is up, it's just UP. Besides, I read somewhere that she was two hours drive away from a hospital, and four hours drive away from a major trauma center that would've been equipped to handle this kind of injury. And there was no helicopter available to MedEvac her to Montreal. So even if she'd gone straight to the hospital right after she fell, the outcome might not have been any different. Anyway, yeah, the media fear-mongering needs to stop.

Monda said...

I suspect it's the result of two alarming trends.

1) There's no such thing as an accident anymore because we need someone/something to blame. This is the same reason no one dies of "natural causes" anymore, and

2) 24-hour media has a lot of time to fill, and the talking-heads need their paychecks. Remember when the news was an hour long and objectively reported? The whole industry has lost its interior monologue.

Maybe we all have.

Quiltin Jenny said...

I totally agree with you about the judgmental attitude some take, but there are some great articles out there that have saved lives and educated people about when to seek emergency care.

Also, it is a totally natural grief reaction to try to separate ourselves from this calamity by rationalizing why it couldn't/wouldn't/shouldn't happen to us. Even if we are lying to ourselves by saying, "That would never happen to me because I would always go to the ER," it helps us get through each day without freaking out over every little thing that can kill us.

this and know that the PR is not all in vain.

Anonymous said...

So why listen/read this stuff? It's pretty easy to avoid.