The Charleston church shooting flooded newsrooms around the world. Did the killer act alone? How much did he really hate black people? Should we burn every Confederate flag in the country? When will another racist strike next? Stay tuned for more! After reading this, one would assume there was an evil Confederate in every town, ready to open fire on every family in America. The reality is much different. The greatest danger to the average American is the cheeseburger they ate for dinner last night.
The best visual example of the state of the media is the recent Jake Gyllenhaal movie Nightcrawler, which documents his character's freelance career as a journalist who records grisly footage of violent crimes and accidents. His boss advises him, "Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut." One quick glance at any major news source today, and one quickly discovers this is not an exaggeration. One study from the American Public Health Association found that some homicides were more newsworthy than others. The best murders for the news involve victims who are female, children, or the elderly. Top locations are in wealthy neighborhoods. Conversely, black and hispanic victims are not as exciting, apparently. A young white woman who is murdered in Beverly Hills will be all over every newsroom in the country, but a black man who got shot up in Compton might make a footnote in the LA Times if he's lucky.
Aside from the grotesque moral issue of masquerading journalists using violent crime as vile entertainment, an even greater tragedy is unfolding: the inability of Americans to properly assess risk in daily life. The pandering to our lower instincts via the tabloid journalism format has left a shocking void of real information and understanding. One popular statistical website, Five Thirty Eight, has provided a refreshing source of analysis in the otherwise mathematically oblivious journalism industry. Yet even Five Thirty Eight occasionally succumbs to a generally irrelevant story selection process with articles about lottery odds and sports instead of focusing more on science, economics, and politics. The average American knows more about LeBron James than the most common ways they could die. This is a failure of the journalism industry.
While you may never see a story about some random fat person dying from heart disease, that is actually the most likely way for an American to die. Second place is cancer. Nothing else even comes close to these two causes. Confederate racists, rogue policemen, terrorists, white thugs, black thugs, car accidents, airplane crashes, earthquakes, tsunamis, heat waves, blizzards, tornadoes, whatever you happen to be afraid of - it doesn't come close to the danger of being fat and dying of heart disease. It's such a huge factor, there's even an investment strategy for it.
If the media wants to continue their daily death tolls, the responsible thing to do would be to discuss how many people died of heart disease at the end of every broadcast. Every day, 1,674 people die from heart disease. That's the equivalent of three 747 airplane crashes every single day. In 2013, 611,105 people died from heart disease, which is more than the 407,000 Americans who died in World War II. Unlike other ways to die, heart disease is preventable 90% of the time. Yet instead of worrying about how to stop being such a fatass, Americans are more concerned about Confederate flags, gun control, police brutality, and ISIS. This is not a commentary on the validity of those issues. It's just a numerical analysis on the fact that Americans are avoiding the elephant in the room - which happens to be themselves.
Here are the numbers from the CDC.
In America, you're more likely to kill yourself than be murdered. Suicide is the tenth most common way to die, and it outnumbers homicides by more than 2 to 1.