MSNBC and a couple of its news anchors deserve a hearty thank you for bringing some sense and perspective to the news coverage of Malaysian Air’s missing flight MH730. As does, Meghan Daum, who commented on it in her column, “Media judgment, like Flight 370, has vanished,” in the Los Angeles Times.
Having endured a similar “circus” of news coverage surrounding my parents’ deaths, I have a pretty good idea of the anguish and the emotional trauma the family members are going through; my heart goes out to them. So when I see a news organization acting responsibly, it merits being singled out for praise.
Yesterday, MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid had Rev. Earl E. Johnson, the former national spiritual care manager for the American Red Cross, as a guest commentator to talk about the trauma the distraught family members are enduring as they await news of their loved ones, who seemed to have vanished into thin air.
Using language similar to what we use in the Survivors of Violent Loss Program, Johnson said, “stop the circus . . . these families are responding normally to an abnormal event. These families need privacy and dignity, and to be protected from well-wishers, media, lawyers, et cetera. They need to reestablish trust.”
He explained that anticipated grief, such as when a loved one dies from old age or a terminal illness, allows family members and friends to prepare for the death and the accompanying grief. But when a plane falls out of the sky or a shooter guns people down, it causes a severe traumatic reaction that affects mind and body.
“You have a different set of grief dynamics,” Johnson said. “You have ambiguous grief. . . . The bodies may not be found.”
Ambiguous loss and grief come from the ambiguity that occurs when loved ones are missing and their fate uncertain. That in turn holds the grieving process hostage.
“Grief professionals are involved,” Johnson added. “Disaster-trained professionals that can step in and protect these people and give them dignity. It should not be the [media] circus, like the [repeated showing of the] iconic picture of that grieving mother.
“There are people out there who know how to be with those [family members], but not just any counselor, not just any priest, imam or rabbi,” he said. “You really need folks that understand disaster and the unique emotional, spiritual and physical needs of those who have just experienced a catastrophic disaster.”
Indeed, traumatic death takes a toll on our bodies as well as our minds and spirits. And when we don’t address those needs in a meaningful way, our health suffers, mentally and physically, and that affects everyone around us.
Later on, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes asked that the news organizations—singling out CNN and Fox (no surprise there)—cut the theatrics and “baseless speculation” about the fate of the missing airplane and the people on board. The self-serving speculation only adds to the anguish and trauma the family members and close friends are already suffering from, he said.
Hayes pointed out the value of 24-hour news channels—and the dark side: when supply fails to the meet the demand, so-called journalists and experts began offering unsubstantiated [and patently absurd] claims about black holes sucking the airplane into oblivion (CNN), and Islamic terrorists hijacking the plane to Pakistan for use as a WMD (weapon of mass destruction) against Israel (Fox).
These clowns at CNN and Fox, along with Rush Limbaugh, would have been better off suggesting the plane and the 239 people aboard were in the mythical Shangri-La.
Huffington Post also ran an item by Rev. Johnson (“While Waiting for the Plane to Be Found and Other Considerations”), in which he offers advice not only to news organizations covering disasters and catastrophic loss of life, but to us all. He suggests that if we collectively demand that news organizations stop shoveling “disaster porn” and instead “honor and remember the victims and their loved ones,” we will all be better off emotionally, spiritually and physically.