Last night a turboprop plane crashed into a home in Clarence, NY, killing all 49 people on board and one of the residents on the ground. As a native of Western New York with many friends scattered around the Buffalo suburbs, I have been scanning the Buffalo News and CNN sites for information. Mostly of the “anyone I know?” variety. My childhood friend Debbie rightly observed that there are only two degrees of separation in Buffalo: “seems like if you don’t know someone on that plane, you know someone who does….”

But so far most of what I find is what I’ll call “disaster porn” and “grief porn.” I can live with the former, because the sight of firefighters silhouetted by a monster of flame is worthy of documentation and should instill awe and respect for the men and women charged with trying to tame it (a sentiment that ought to extend to funding emergency services, btw.) It’s the “grief porn” that pisses me off. My friend Leah pointed this out to me, the “swarms of reporters” surrounding victim’s family members as they enter the airport, asking them “how do you feel” questions while they are still absorbing the shock of death, loss, horror and pain. CNN posts video on their breaking news page, documenting the breathless reportage by local news anchors on the scene after they have broadcast footage of some poor guy distraught, his eyes reading fear and despair, while an army of reporters stick microphones and cameras into his face.

I have never liked this. There is no real news value here. It serves only the voyeuristic, rubber-necking demands of new data to feed into the hour-by-hour news cycle. There was a time when documenting such grief rounded out a story, showing the human cost of a tragedy. I don’t know if there ever was much restraint 20 or 30 years ago, but it seems that post-O.J. or post-9/11 the corporate news media have taken the fetishization of suffering to new levels of overexposure and exploitation.

There are times when it is best to leave people alone. Let a family suffer moments of private grief. Don’t add to their suffering. In other words — be a decent human being, first.

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