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International Journal of Applied Philosophy

Volume 17, Issue 1, Spring 2003

Candace Cummins Gauthier
Pages 33-45

News Media Coverage of National Tragedies
Public Discourse As Public Grieving

The coverage of national tragedies by the news media has come under increasing criticism. Yet, we continue to watch, listen, and read. One approach to resolving this conflict is through an understanding and recognition of the contribution the news media make to public discourse and public grieving. Themes from communication studies, political theory, and contemporary ethics are all employed to develop a new perspective on this type of news coverage. The perspective taken here is based on the ritual view of communication, according to which the purpose of communication is the maintenance of society and the representation of shared beliefs. The argument is made that the news media in these tragic situations have the responsibility of providing needed information, stimulating public discourse, bringing us together as a community of fellow-citizens, and telling stories that engage our emotions and lead us to re-evaluate our own values, attitudes, choices, and actions. Specific examples are provided from the September 11 attacks to demonstrate that in all of these ways the news media make a valuable contribution to public grieving by initiating and supporting the kind of public discourse that can meet human needs in the face of grief and loss.