This Halloween, who needs ghouls and goblins to scare us when we already have … the Media! We journalists often say "if it bleeds, it leads." That's a joke ... but it's also pretty accurate, because fear sells. Scare stories, justified or not, bring higher ratings. For years, I've reported on hundreds of scares. Dangerous chemicals in the grass ... nuclear threats ... food additives ... Y2K. Bird Flu! Exploding coffee pots!
But then I spent a year researching what is most likely to kill us, so I was ready when a 20/20 producer came in with the next scare story: “John, we've gotta do a story on Bic lighters! They are spontaneously catching fire, exploding in people's pockets. They've killed 4 people over the last four years!”
They had. But by then, I had my death list, and could say to him: “Let's do a story on plastic bags. They've killed not 4, but 40 Americans over the last 4 years. Or bathtubs. Let's do a story on bathtubs. They kill hundreds of Americans. Or buckets. These kill hundreds of children.” The producer called me callous. 20/20 got Bob Brown to do the bic lighter story.
I've been obsessing about relative risk every since. We worry too much about terrorism, chemicals, flying, and people kidnapping children...and we hardly worry at all about the biggest killers out there.
What scares you … and what SHOULD scare you. That’s this week’s STOSSEL.
Thursdays at 9 p.m. & midnight, Fridays at 10 p.m., Saturdays at 9 p.m. & 12 midnight, and Sunday at 10 p.m. (all times eastern).