Hierarchy of death

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Hierarchy of death is a phrase used by journalists, social scientists, and academics to describe disproportionate amounts of media attention paid to various incidents of death around the world.[1]


Definitions of the hierarchy of death vary, but several themes remain consistent in terms of media coverage: domestic deaths outweigh foreign deaths, deaths in the developed world outweigh deaths in the developing world, deaths of whites outweigh deaths of darker skinned people, and deaths in ongoing conflicts garner relatively little media attention.[2][3][4][5]


The phenomenon has been linked to a variety of factors, including stereotypes about different groups of people, familiarity with the deceased, and several psychological theories, such as collapse of compassion, psychic numbing, and disaster fatigue.[6]


British media commentator Roy Greenslade has been credited with coining the term while writing on the newsworthiness of those who died during the Troubles. Greenslade also critiqued the phenomenon in media reactions to the Boston Marathon bombings.[7][8]

NPR discussed the disparity in media coverage between the 2015 Beirut bombings and the November 2015 Paris attacks, which happened within a day of each other.[9][10]

Scottish journalist Allan Massie has also written on the topic.[8][11]

Similar phenomena[edit]

The hierarchy of death has been compared to missing white woman syndrome.[12]


  1. ^ Keating, Joshua (2013-04-22). "Is it wrong to care more about 4 deaths in Boston than 80 in Syria?". Ideas.foreignpolicy.com. Retrieved 2013-04-29.
  2. ^ Greenslade, Roy (2007-04-19). "A hierarchy of death". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2013-04-29.
  3. ^ Karpf, Anne (2001-11-28). "Anne Karpf: The hierarchy of death". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2013-04-29.
  4. ^ Goldberg, Jeffrey (July 23, 2014). "Obsessing About Gaza, Ignoring Syria (And Most Everything Else)". The Atlantic. Retrieved May 29, 2015.
  5. ^ R. L. W.; G. D. (August 12, 2014). "Comparing conflicts". The Economist. Retrieved May 29, 2015.
  6. ^ Slovic, Paul (2010). "If I Look at the Mass I Will Never Act: Psychic Numbing and Genocide". Emotions and Risky Technologies. The International Library of Ethics, Law and Technology. Vol. 5. p. 37-59. doi:10.1007/978-90-481-8647-1_3. hdl:1794/18947. ISBN 978-90-481-8646-4. {{cite book}}: |journal= ignored (help)
  7. ^ "Sian murder says a lot about media's values". London Evening Standard. March 30, 2011.
  8. ^ a b "The hierarchy of death: Boston's bombings shock us more than the silent drone war in Pakistan. But should they?". The Telegraph. April 24, 2013. Archived from the original on April 27, 2013.
  9. ^ Ajaka, Nadine. "Paris, Beirut, and the Language Used to Describe Terrorism". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-02-21.
  10. ^ "Is There A Hierarchy Of The Importance Of Death In The News Business?". NPR.org. Retrieved 2018-02-17.
  11. ^ Massie, Allan (16 April 2013). "Allan Massie: Keep Boston bombings in perspective". The Scotsman. Retrieved May 29, 2015.
  12. ^ Jones, Owen (2013-04-21). "Owen Jones: Our shameful hierarchy - some deaths matter more than others - Comment - Voices". The Independent. London. Retrieved 2013-04-29.

Further reading[edit]

  • Levy, Yagil (2012). Israel's Death Hierarchy: Casualty Aversion in a Militarized Democracy (Warfare and Culture). New York City: NYU Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-5334-7.