Congratulations! Despite all the odds, you've survived another year.
You beat an unusually aggressive norovirus and the worst outbreak of whooping cough in decades, strains of tuberculosis that, according to news reports, were "strong and getting stronger," Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome and a new invasive plant, the Giant Hogweed, that "could cause blindness."
You're alive and kicking even though the headlines told us that "2012 Was the Hottest Year on Record" (we're still waiting on 2013's numbers) and "Heat-Trapping Gas Passes Milestone, Raising Fears." And you're still here despite the fiscal cliff, sequestration and the government shutdown. Despite a zombie apocalypse, the death of the honeybees and Monsanto creating "superworms that will devastate the Midwest." Despite "exploding mailboxes in Hamilton County," "carneys molesting kids" and "filthy cellphones." And many, many, MANY weather forecasts that oversold impending snow, rain, cold or heat.
All these stories were part of the year in news.
If the news didn't get you, commercials have. Your housekeeper could fall down the stairs. Your water heater could explode. In case you didn't know, the leading cause of death for people under 45 is accidents, we were reminded. And if your email inbox is anything like mine, it's filled with messages telling me that unless I contribute, my political party is going down the toilet.
You'll recall that last year ended with us worrying about going over the fiscal cliff and whether the Mayans were right — that the world would end on Dec. 21, 2012. (As best I can tell, it didn't.) And we started the year with news that prices are going up on college, groceries, cars and more.
I wanted to see just how much fear we're force-fed in an average year, so throughout 2013, I documented the fear-related messages I heard or saw in newspapers, magazines, on TV or the radio. The file is by no means all-inclusive; think of this as a "best-of" compilation.
Most of what I saw, whether it was news stories or commercials, had some legitimacy, although I had to laugh at NBC News on Feb. 16. After a 10-ton meteor hit Russia and a large asteroid flew by, NBC promoted this story: "How prepared are we for a truly catastrophic hit from outer space? What we don't know about what may be on its way."
Me, I'm more worried about 16-ton weights and attacks by fresh-fruit-wielding madmen than 10-ton meteors. But that's just me.
Sometimes, the news was both accurate and wrong. Yes, there were a couple of high-profile home invasions in November (and they were breathlessly reported). But one local TV news story I saw — about a woman who bought a gun out of fear — started with the words "The number of home invasions in Indianapolis continues to grow, leaving many to worry about the safety of their neighborhoods."
No doubt people are worried—they're told to, after all. But I checked with IMPD: From Jan. 1-Nov. 15, 2013, Indianapolis had 168 crimes that fit in the category that includes home invasions. During that same period in 2012, the number was 194.
This "be afraid, be very afraid" approach is the same stuff The Temptations sang about in the song "Ball of Confusion" (1970)—"Fear in the air, tension everywhere/unemployment rising fast ... /and the only safe place to live is on an Indian reservation"—and Paddy Chayefsky railed about it in Network (1976).
But when you see all these examples collected in one place, well, it's kind of scary. As Peter Gabriel sang, "Fear, she's the mother of violence/making me tense to watch the way she breeds."
Consider my experience the morning after Thanksgiving. I woke up to two front-page stories in The New York Times, "Medicaid Growth Could Aggravate Doctor Shortage" and "Law Limiting Plastic Guns Set to Expire." I went to the gym and saw on WXIN (Channel 59) stories about Black Friday violence and potential injuries from holiday decorating, plus a commercial selling a product that'll protect us from identity theft. Then I looked at the magazine rack and saw a Time magazine cover: "The Secret Web: Where Drugs, Porn and Murder Live Online." The subtitle: "Ten years ago the government built a totally private, anonymous network. Now it's a haven for criminals."
All this before 8 a.m.
Later in the day, I read a story about the dangers of giving Thanksgiving leftovers to your dog — right after I'd given my dog some turkey. (She's fine, thanks.)
It's enough to make you want to climb into bed and never get out. Except to watch the news, of course, so you know what to be afraid of next.
"I have a lot of clients who won't watch the local news because it makes them anxious," Mark Pfeffer, who runs the Panic/Anxiety Recovery Center in Chicago, told me. "Some people, though, want it. They need it."
We're scaring a lot of people, but we're also desensitizing people, said Pfeffer, who shared this analogy: "A wildebeest will feel relieved when they see that one of the herd has been taken by the lions and it's not them. And then they go back to grazing."
As Pfeffer rightly pointed out, if media could make money on warm and fuzzy news, that's what you'd see and read. But no one picks up the paper or turns on the news to find out that today, thousands of people landed safely at the airport, tens of thousands of buildings did not catch on fire, and hundreds of thousands of people went to work and school and got home without incident. Even though that is the reality, we tend to focus on the latest freak show.
Telling stories about bad news "is the nature of the beast," said Debby Knox, who retired from WISH (Channel 8) in November after 33 years. "As a news consumer, you have to keep it in perspective and understand how news works."
So what can you do to offset the fear? As the Black-Eyed Peas sang in "One Tribe": "Let's cast amnesia, forget about all that evil/forget about all that evil, that evil that they feed ya/remember that we're all one people."
"Worry and anxiety is like the strings of a violin," Pfeffer said. "You want them to be tight enough to make beautiful music, but not too tight that they break. It's a constant adjustment."
• Prices are going up on college, groceries, cars.
• Here comes the fiscal cliff.
• The flu is spreading. An unusually aggressive virus, a new type of norovirus, and the worst outbreak of whooping cough in decades.
• 2012 was the hottest year on record.
• Gas prices are rising.
• Your taxes are going up. (Maybe $35-$40 a week.)
• The weather. Too cold, too hot, flooding, drought. Freezes in California are making lettuce more expensive.
• Obama's going to take away your guns. (23 proposals unveiled.) So everyone's going to gun shows.
• Exploding mailboxes in Hamilton County.
• AAA reports if you haven't booked by now for spring break, you are out of luck.
• Sex offenders are allowed on social media. Are your kids in danger?
• A computer virus can allow people to spy on you through your laptop, turning on your web camera and mike.
• A Facebook phishing scam is stealing your personal info.
• Sequestration is going to drive the economy into the ditch.
• Lots of pharmacy robberies and "what you should do if you're in a store that's being robbed?"
• A string of burglaries and car break-ins in Fishers.
• Toxic air and "which companies are polluting."
• Adults are using Snapchat to send nude pics to kids.
• A Montana TV station alerted viewers about a zombie apocalypse. (The Montana Television Network said hackers broke into the emergency alert system for the Great Falls affiliate KRTV and its CW station. An alert was issued that claimed the bodies were "attacking the living." The alert warned viewers not to "approach or apprehend these bodies as they are extremely dangerous." According to the Associated Press, the Great Falls Tribune reports the hoax alert generated at least four calls to police to see if it was true.)
• An Indianapolis Star lead: "Fear, violence and death rolled across the metro area Wednesday, leaving four dead and four injured in a series of shootings, chases and crashes that began in the morning to the south and rolled west by the afternoon."
• A 10-ton meteor hit Russia and a large asteroid flew by.
• The sequester cuts are going to slow down air travel, make family vacations impossible, make our military less secure.
• Armed robberies in White River State Park.
• Expect drought and wildfires this summer, The New York Times reported.
• North Korea says it will preemptively strike the U.S. with a nuclear missile in retaliation for sanctions.
• Columnist Charles Blow warns: We are reaching a crisis point in this country's higher education system.
• Headline: "U.S. Drug Costs Dropped in 2012, but Rises Loom."
• Story: "Solar eruptions that directly hit Earth are rare, but in our wired world, could be crippling. In 1859, the sun erupted, and on Earth wires shot off sparks that shocked telegraph operators and set their paper on fire. If such a storm struck in the 21st century, telecommunications satellites would be disabled, GPS signals would be scrambled and the electrical surge would threaten grids and perhaps plunge a continent or two into darkness."
• Allstate's "mayhem" commercials: Your housekeeper could fall down the stairs. Your water heater could explode.
• Headline: "Monsanto Creates 'Superworms' That Will Devastate Midwest."
• Story: "A mysterious malady that has been killing honeybees for several years appears to have expanded drastically in the last year, commercial beekeepers say, wiping out 40 percent or even 50 percent of the hives needed to pollinate many of the nation's fruits and vegetables. The Agriculture Department says a quarter of the American diet, from apples to cherries to watermelons to onions, depends on pollination by honeybees. Fewer bees means smaller harvests and higher food prices."
• Headline: "Allergies Likely Worse This Season."
• Car repair costs are going up.
• The Boston Marathon bombing and an explosion in Waco.
• Ricin is sent to the president and senators.
• Gun laws are defeated in Congress.
• There could be flight delays due to federal budget cuts.
• WTHR (Channel 13) promo: "There's a growing danger sweeping the country, one that could affect your family's health." (I didn't see this story, so I'm living in ignorance.)
• Homeland Security is keeping us safe, but ... the five warning signs of trouble everyone should be watching for. (Including dangerous prepositions at the end of sentences?)
• Story: "The level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, has passed a long-feared milestone, scientists reported Friday, reaching a concentration not seen on the earth for millions of years."
• Florida's citrus industry is grappling with the most serious threat in its history: a bacterial disease with no cure that has infected all 32 of the state's citrus-growing counties.
• Bad gasoline. Are you getting what you paid for?
• The leading cause of death for people under 45 is accidents, according to a commercial for Matrix Direct Insurance.
• WXIN (Channel 59) reports on filthy phones. "We tested cellphones for bacteria – and what we found was disgusting."
• Strains of tuberculosis are strong and getting stronger.
• Beware of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome.
• The NSA is investigating you.
• A new invasive plant in Indianapolis, the Giant Hogweed, could cause blindness.
• Carneys are molesting kids.
• George Zimmerman is found not guilty. Be afraid of riots and revenge.
• The first of the government shutdown stories: Republicans say they won't pass the budget if there's a dollar for Obamacare.
• Story: "Young Muslims are traveling to Syria to fight against the government of Bashar al-Assad, raising fears among American and European officials of a new terrorist threat when they return home."
• We live in the most unhealthy city in the country.
August and September
• Syria: Should we bomb? Shouldn't we? If we do, will there be retaliation? If we don't, what's the message we're sending to the world?
• Will the Republicans force a government shutdown on Oct. 1?
• Home invasion in a place you wouldn't expect – Center Grove.
• WRTV (Channel 6) asks: "Why does the FDA allow additives in our food that aren't allowed in other countries? There might be a hidden danger in your diet."
• How safe are Indiana daycares? The Star reports: "Indiana spends about $2.5 million inspecting and licensing more than 4,000 day cares that serve more than 150,000 children every year. Yet an Indianapolis Star investigation found that the system fails to hold many day cares accountable."
• Retail crime groups are growing.
• The rocky launch of health insurance exchange websites. Health care prices aren't going down in rural areas.
• Home invasions in Indianapolis.
• Headline: "Cartel Hits Midwest With Heroin Killing Chicago Youth"
• Washington Post: Federal law enforcement officials are increasingly concerned about the public-safety threats posed by plastic handguns made with 3-D printers because they can potentially slip past metal detectors and are capable of firing lethal rounds.
• Only 106,000 pick health insurance in the first month.
• Russians are spying on us.
• The tennis ball bomber.
• Expect some major changes to the Earth that could affect everything from agriculture to sea level, NPR reported, adding: "We aren't doing enough to look for those changes and anticipate their impacts."
• If Congress doesn't pass a new farm bill, milk prices will soar.
• An arctic blast that threatens 32 million people could knock out power by coating parts of the South and Midwest with ice and send temperatures sinking by as much as 50 degrees Thursday.
• And we closed the year with this headline from our friends at Yahoo! Health: Early Warning Signs of Cancer: Are You at Risk?