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Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death Paperback – August 28, 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (August 28, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415920981
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415920988
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,202,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Compassion fatigue"?the dulled public sensitivity toward crisis?isn't inevitable, asserts Moeller, director of the journalism program at Brandeis. But formulaic and sensationalistic news coverage promotes it, she claims. In four worthy but somewhat belabored case studies, Moeller analyzes major American media coverage of recent crises, such as the Ebola virus, Ethiopian famine, the assassinations of Sadat and Rabin, and "death camps" in Bosnia. In these stories she found certain things were emphasized, others ignored: coverage of sensational disease, she notes, obscures more ordinary killers; images of starving children overshadow political causes for famine (and famines without photo opportunities are often ignored); the "Americanization" of assassination emphasizes that killers are crazy, rather than politically motivated; and lack of a simple heroes-and-villains story line obscured the Kurdish tragedy. The solution, she argues in an earnest but pollyannaish conclusion, is for the media to invest in international coverage, aiming for nuance and quality over sensationalism. More valuable for its analysis of what's wrong than on how to make it right, Moeller's book could have been made more helpful still through a brief comparison with media in other countries.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Moeller takes a morally complex and tightly interwoven theme--how the media sells disease, famine, war and death--and melds it into a coherent and powerful indictment of exactly how the right photo and words can shape public opinion with often devastating effects on the future.... A book that, despite its scope and density, should be read by the public and media..
The Press Christchurch, New Zealand

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Peter E. Harrell on January 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
Moeller divides her book into six sections; an introduction, a section on media coverage of disease, a chapter on media coverage of famine, a chapter on coverage of assassinations, a chapter on coverage of genocide, and a conclusion. Each section if filled with case studies and alternately amusing and horrifying anecdotes; she recounts, for example, that the editor of one Boston paper said that "the distance from Boston common divided by the number of bodies" decides which stories make the final cut. The book makes a great read (especially relative to the bulk of academic writing), and you'll certainly pick up little tidbits you can later cite in conversations about current events.
The conclusions Moeller draws, however, are cliché. What do you know, the media disproportionately focuses on the US, and most of what we see of Africa and the Middle East is tragedy, so we get a skewed picture. And the media sensationalize everything, and are fond of shallow, sound-bite explanations of complex tragedies. Who would have guessed any of this without reading the book? I also find her conclusions somewhat contradictory; she argues both that excessive coverage of disasters leads to a hardening of the public's sympathies AND that the media need to increase coverage of foreign tragedies. I think she's arguing that the type of coverage needs to be changes - fewer pictures of starving children, more hard-boiled analysis, but her conclusion is so brief she doesn't elaborate much. So while you will probably enjoy the book, and love the stories, I doubt that when you have finished you will feel that you have a better understanding of the American media.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By James C. Costa on December 7, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Tired of giving gifts that don't mean anything? Then this book is the perfect gift to give to someone you care about. This book teaches us that we need to look closely at what is being fed to us daily in newspapers, TV, and radio. Ms. Moeller forces us to look at how Americans wants their news served to us so we can tolerate it instead of tasting it and truly understanding the complexities. I applaud her bravery in criticizing the mainstream press which will certainly not be interested in reviewing or having her on as a guest. If you care about the world buy this book and give it to as many friends as you can.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Gregory McMahan VINE VOICE on January 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"At breakfast and at dinner, we can sharpen our own appetites with a plentiful dose of the pornography of war, genocide, destitution and disease." So says one of the first lines in introduction to Compassion Fatigue. With that statement as simultaneously an opener and a teaser of the things to come, Professor Moeller takes the reader on a guided tour of the presentation and commodification of human tragedy and suffering.

Compassion Fatigue tells you the how and the why behind what makes the nightly news, and also reveals why a great many other things do not make the news. While mostly a critique of US based media and journalism, it does reveal the gradual trend towards the 'One World' view of things and events that has come to typify reporting of any sort.

Without intending to do so, the book does much to demonstrate that the media, always locked in competition with other forms of 'programming' for our attention, has resorted to marketing information- current events, as a form of entertainment. In place of in-depth, investigative journalism, we now have soundbites featuring 'talking heads', and the cuter or more obscene the personality (and increasingly both), the better.

Each of the so-called 'Four Horsemen'- war, disease, famine and death, are presented and profiled in turn, with detailed discussion about the mechanics behind their delivery to readers and viewers. This book differs from most critiques of the media because it tells the narrative with the assistance of journalists themselves, in the words of the journalists.

Many people in the media know what they are doing is not only questionable, but in some cases, flat out wrong. However, marketability (how well something will go over with viewers) matters more than anything else.
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