“Only an Accident” is a very well written New York Times op-ed by a former hose and conveyor belting seller, Bruce MacHart, who describes countless manual labor related accidents he has seen over the years. He then compares the media’s reaction to the Boston Marathon bombing, where four people died and around 200 were injured last Monday, to a “fertilizer plant explosion in a small town called West [that] left more than a dozen dead and around 200 injured” in Texas two days later:
In the first hours after the fertilizer plant explosion, many commenters had wondered about the likelihood of foul play or terrorism. But once it was deemed an industrial accident, the hysterical coverage tapered off. We had nothing to fear from West; we could stop paying attention.
We tend to discount that which is accidental as somehow less tragic, less interesting, less newsworthy than the mayhem of agency. Lives have been “lost” in Texas, but in Boston, by God — lives have been “taken.”
Earlier in the piece, he cryptically describes the sense of the word “lost” in labor-related accidents:
Then there was the grisly story of the debarking drum, which is effectively a giant, spinning, kilnlike pipe into which one puts logs to strip them of their bark. Imagine a machine violent enough to tumble logs clean. Now imagine that machine loaded with a grown man. Who knows how such mistakes are made, but, so the story goes, he was still inside when the machine turned on. He was lost.
I often came back to that word — lost. It implies a certain negligence, a certain culpability, but it also suggests that what is lost might be found again. In those days, I routinely called on manufacturing facilities and mines and sawmills and petrochemical plants, and on company marquees all over town was the following phrase: “___ days since the last L.T.A.” L.T.A. stands for “lost time accident,” meaning an accident that caused an injured employee to miss future “time” at work.
He concludes that the loss of human life, no matter how it was lost, should be valued equally:
But this distinction means nothing to the victims or, I imagine, to their families. In Boston, in West, whether by sinister design or by accident, whether on a television-ready stage or hidden away in a rural factory, when people are hurt, when lives are lost, the essential human cost shouldn’t be lost on the living.
I think this is a beautiful piece that shows the media’s bias towards terror-related violence. But one crucial aspect that I don’t think MacHart touches upon is why viewers can identify with terror-related accidents more than labor ones. Especially in the United States, fewer and fewer people are working in manufacturing jobs. However, everyone can be the victim of a terror attack. I think this plays into the fear, that anyone can be affected.
He highlights the media’s ability to diagnose “the mayhem of agency” and “sinister design” behind terrorism rather than “by accident,” and explains this as the reason behind the media’s increased coverage of the Boston Marathon in comparison to the Texas fertilizer plant explosion. On the other hand, I also believe the media does this because they know that viewers will identify with acts of terror more than accidents.
What do you think?
Rating: Shit is complicated.