“Worry About The Right Things” and “The Media Likes Scaring Us”
by John Stossel.
: The YouTube Videos from 20/20 about Media Hype.
Students are to write a 2-3 page reaction paper regarding “Worry About The
Right Things”, “The Media Likes Scaring Us” and the Media Hype 20/20
I’d like to know your opinion regarding the two articles you read and
YouTube videos you watched. Please include your responses to these
questions in your paper.
Was anything surprising to you?
Discuss something you remember being “hyped” on TV or in the
Describe a time when you or your family members were affected by
Has something hyped in the media affected the way you thought or
Do you have any fears that may have been enhanced by something
you saw, heard or read via some form of media?
Discuss in detail some of the situations the author discussed and your
reaction to it.
12 point font
New Times Roman
Use proper spelling and grammar
Use proper essay/paper format (introduction, body, conclusion)
pages. You can always write more than two pages
April 04, 2007
Worry About the Right Things
For the past two weeks I’ve written about how the media — part of the Fear Industrial
Complex — profit by scaring us to death about things that rarely happen, like terrorism,
child abductions, and shark attacks.
We do it because we get caught up in the excitement of the story. And for ratings.
Worse, because many reporters are statistically illiterate, personal-injury lawyers get us
to hype risks that barely threaten people, like secondhand smoke, or getting cancer from
trace amounts of chemicals. Sometimes they even con us into scaring you about risks that
don’t exist at all, like contracting anti-immune disease from breast implants.
Newsrooms are full of English majors who acknowledge that they are not good at math,
but still rush to make confident pronouncements about a global-warming “crisis” and the
coming of bird flu.
Bird flu was called the No. 1 threat to the world. But bird flu has killed no one in
America, while regular flu — the boring kind — kills tens of thousands. New York City
internist Marc Siegel says that after the media hype, his patients didn’t want to hear that.
“I say, ‘You need a flu shot.’ You know the regular flu is killing 36,000 per year. They
say, ‘Don’t talk to me about regular flu. What about bird flu?’”
Here’s another example. What do you think is more dangerous, a house with a pool or a
house with a gun? When, for “20/20,” I asked some kids, all said the house with the gun
is more dangerous. I’m sure their parents would agree. Yet a child is 100 times more
likely to die in a swimming pool than in a gun accident.
Parents don’t know that partly because the media hate guns and gun accidents make
bigger headlines. Ask yourself which incident would be more likely to be covered on TV.
Media exposure clouds our judgment about real-life odds. Of course, it doesn’t help that
viewers are as ignorant about probability as reporters are.
To demonstrate that, “20/20” ran an experiment. We asked people to put on blindfolds
and then to pick up a red jellybean from one of two plates that held a mixture of red and
white jellybeans. We offered $1 to anyone who could pick up a red bean.
Here’s the catch: While one plate held 20 jellybeans and the other 100, the plate with 20
beans had a higher percentage of red ones. We put up signs that told people this clearly:
“10 percent red” of the small plate and just “7 percent red” of the big plate.
Surprisingly, even with the percentage signs in front of them, a third of the people picked
the plate with 100 beans.
What people saw overwhelmed their ability to think abstractly about probability. They
saw more red on the big plate. It’s one reason people obsess about things that have a
small chance of hurting them but ignore real threats.
Another is the illusion of control. People who fear flying are comfortable driving because
they think they’re “in control.” Yet driving is probably the riskiest thing most of us do.
Think about it: We drive at 65 mph, a few feet from other cars — some of which are
driven by 16-year olds! And our cameras have caught people curling their eyelashes and
reading while driving.
A hundred people die on the road every day. But the media are much more likely to do
scare stories about plane crashes than car accidents.
So take our reporting with heavy skepticism. Ignore us when we hyperventilate about
mad cow disease and the danger of asbestos hidden behind a wall.
Instead, worry about what’s worth worrying about: driving, acting reckless, smoking
cigarettes, drinking too much, and eating too much. “What is your blood pressure, what
are you eating; are you exercising?” is what patients should think about, says internist
Marc Siegel. “But obesity is boring. Heart disease is boring. So we tend to not think of
the things that can really get us.”
The media make it worse. Instead of educating people to real dangers, we scare them
about things that hardly matter.
Copyright 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.
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