Read. Write. Repeat. Aspire to be a Janitor.
Sensational reporting is the death of certainty and social awareness. The reporters seek to please their editors. The editors wish to please the paper’s owners. The owners want to make money. The public needs to be amused. Amusement is the undoing of truth.
On October 17th, 2014, Christian Faith Benge collapsed and died in an Ohio haunted house attraction. The mainstream media picked up the story several days later. The problem? They completely ignored the actual cause of her collapse. Christian was born with Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH) along with other birth defects. These complications ultimately led to her enlarged heart stopping in the middle of the Halloween attraction.
CDH is a birth defect found in 1 out of every 2500 babies. It has a 50% mortality rate. The cause is not known.
Non-profit organization, CHERUBS- The Association of Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia Research, Awareness, and Support, is headquartered in Wake Forest, NC. For 19 years now, CHERUBS has advocated for and aided families with CDH babies. By completely ignoring the root cause of Christian’s death, the media struck a punishing blow to organizations like CHERUBS.
Instead of informing the public about this deadly defect, news sources spun the story to advertise Halloween activities. Instead of reporting the facts, papers opted for click-bait styled headlines. Instead of giving potential donors information, journalists capitalized on the real emotion felt by everyone hurt by this event.
Sensational headlines like the following did nothing but stir up strife for Christian’s family and friends.
“Scared to Death? Teen Has Fatal Heart Attack at Ohio Haunted House” by Hasani Gittens (NBC News)
“Did a Haunted House Scare This Teen to Death?” by Leah Rocketto (PopSugar)
“Ohio Teen With ‘Time Bomb’ Heart Condition Fatally Collapses While Walking Through Haunted House” by Rida Ahmed (HNGN)
“Family Denies Teen Was ‘Scared to Death’ at Haunted House” by Gillian Mohney (ABC News via Good Morning America)
“Christian Faith Benge Dies After Heart Stops In Haunted House” by Andres Jauregui (Huffington Post)
“Can You Be Scared to Death at a Halloween Haunted House?” by INSIDE EDITION
In that last article by INSIDE EDITION, the mother, Jean Benge, is quoted saying, “It’s not fair to us and the family to read the awful articles that she was scared to death,” yet they still chose to publish the article with that same incendiary phrase.
The blame does not solely rest on the media. They have money to make. The public starves for entertainment. They seek distractions from the reality of everyday life. Caught up in sensational phenomena like we saw with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the public makes Idiocracy reminiscent videos rather than educating themselves about the actual disease.
To regain ethical journalism, we must understand the symbiotic relationship between the media and the public. We, as a reading community, need to hold news outlets accountable for the quality of facts-based reporting. Likewise, the media needs to encourage our society to look at the facts, to think critically, and to embrace an awareness of their neighbors. If we can agree to fulfill this idea of accountability, then our social consciousness will be more in harmony than any other time in recent history.
In order to understand the weight of how detrimental fear-mongering and click-driven journalism really is, we must first look outward and then inward. Look outward to Christian Benge. Look at her life. Look at how hard she fought for 16 years. Imagine her mother, Jean Benge. For 16 years, she watched her beautiful daughter grow up- against all odds. Be empathetic to their suffering.
Now, look at the headlines. Look at how the news sources dealt so heartlessly with her story. How they turned a blind eye toward the cause of Christian’s death. How they could have brought CDH to the public eye. How would you like to be remembered as the girl who was “scared to death?” No, let us remember Christian Benge how we would want to be remembered: as an individual who succumbed to a lifelong struggle with a vastly unknown birth defect.
Keep your thoughts and prayers with the Benge family. Keep your thoughts and prayers with all the CDH families across the globe.
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