Consuming Grim News 24/7 and the Importance of Bearing Witness

Feb 23, 2018

As NPR reporter Sarah McCammon headed to Florida to report on what would be the fourth mass shooting she's covered, she posted this to Twitter:

@sarahmccammon - “Just boarded a flight to go cover a mass shooting - for the second time in less than 5 months (and of course there have been so many others in between). And on a day that's about celebrating love (and for Christians, a holy day).”

McCammon says that when she sent that tweet, she was thinking about how commonplace these shooting have become, "and how morbidly mundane it’s become."

"It’s never mundane when someone’s life is lost, but we’re used to it. We have a whole routine, and what a terrible thing to have a routine about - how to respond to a dozen or more people killed in one fell swoop for no good reason," she says.

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe talks with McCammon about on the importance of bearing witness to tough, heart-wrenching news events – even when and perhaps especially when it's tempting to tune out. 

"We can get really numb to this because it happens so much. I mean, obviously we all have to take care of ourselves, and you can only focus on these things so much at one time, […] but I think if we don’t talk about it, if we don’t hear from the families who have lost their children, if we don’t hear from the survivors who witness these crimes, we won’t fully understand what is going on," McCammon says.

 "I think unfortunately, it takes sometimes a really traumatic event, or many of them, for some kind of change to happen. Obviously, we as a society don’t agree about what that change should be, but I think we’re starting to slowly hear more and more at least lip service, maybe more, to the idea that something needs to change.”

 Nebbe also talks with two people who bear witness to heart breaking stories every day, trauma surgeon Dr. Denville Myrie and Beau Pinkham of the Crisis Center of Johnson County. She also talks with licensed mental health therapist Michelle Hankins about how a barrage of bad news affects all of us personally, and with political scientist Chris Larimer about how desensitization, or the numbing effect, affects policy decisions.