Boston Bombing and Texas Explosion: Why Are They So Different?


This week has not been kind. So far five people have lost their lives and 160 people have been injured in a fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas that occurred around 8 p.m. Wednesday night. The blast leveled homes and the fire spread to a nearby middle school and nursing home. Rescue workers are still going from house-to-house searching for the injured. 

The news coverage of this explosion has been robust, but it pales in comparison to the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. Media outlets are clearly struggling to decide which scene of carnage is more important to viewers. Which one will get them the highest ratings? 

There are obvious reasons to fear bombings. How do you protect yourself against someone set on causing harm to you, to a city, or to a government it disagrees with? It’s nearly impossible to anticipate, so when it does happen it shocks us, roots us to the ground in fear. “What if that was me, what if that was my family?” It’s impossible to stop those thoughts from creeping into our brain. It is just one of the ways we deal with unforeseen tragedies. As the days pass, we will attempt to dissect the psychology of the bomber, to understand them from every angle. "Who would do this kind of thing, let's find out so we can stop it from happening again." We will also examine our own behavior, question our own vigilance, but that won’t happen in Texas.  

That small Texas town outside of Waco is utterly devastated, homes and businesses are leveled, and people are still people missing. My local TV station stopped covering the Texas explosion hours ago in lieu of coverage of the local flooding. I know that the media’s inability to focus on more than one tragedy at a time is nothing new or shocking, but it does give me pause. 

It also reminds me in particular of this clip from the movie, The Dark Knight:

It’s not that anyone planned or expected the fertilizer plant to explode. It is that the fertilizer plant explosion doesn’t violate our contextual frameworks for understanding the things that are possible from day-to-day. How many times in our lives do we hear the phrase, "Well, as terrible as X is, accidents happen." We won’t fear industrial plants as we drive by them but we will question any unattended backpacks or packages we see. We won’t fear industrial plants because we feel removed from them and their dangers. When in reality, industrial accidents are much more widespread

Will we remain up-to-date on the investigation into the fertilizer explosion? Will we demand that more security occurs across the countries industrial plants? Will we call our Congressional representatives and demand they take action to better protect Americans? Ideally, we would. Ideally, we would see this industrial explosion as a call to action and demand change. As we saw out of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, that momentum for change is short-lived due to the fact that economic advantages continue to outweigh an individual workers right to safety. Somehow, the risk industrial workers put themselves in became acceptable us. But we're not willing to put ourselves in that same risk (for obvious reasons). That's what gives me pause. Why would I not want to prevent these tragedies from happening again? Why would I not want to support regulation that might prevent the continued loss of life. Is it solely because there might be some kind of economic impact on him? Are we so callous?

These are mutual tragedies and will obviously mourn the victims, the devastation, the loss of life in both. But how we respond afterwards will give you an indication of how we casually place line markers for what kind of disasters we have learned to tolerate, even expect, (at least subconsciously) and which one’s we haven’t.