Initial reporting in American newspapers was a mixture of wishful thinking, press statements from White Star, and jumbled messages that conveyed the disaster was not that bad. Headlines blared the following:
ALL TITANIC PASSENGERS ARE SAFE (Baltimore Evening Sun, 15 April)
ALL SAVED FROM TITANIC AFTER COLLISION (New York Evening Sun 15 April)
And news reports indicated Titanic was being either towed to Halifax or to New York. It turns out though that another ship in distress, an oil tanker being towed to port, got mixed in with reports about Titanic. Wireless messages were constantly being bounced about, were often short, and since Morse code was used easy to mix up things before sending the message forward. And that is what essentially happened. The New York Times was the first to report it correctly. After three days of listening to messages and doing research, managing editor Carl Van Anda realized that no messages had been transmitted by Titanic since its distress calls. Their late edition would read:NEW LINER TITANIC HITS AN ICEBERG;SINKING BY THE BOW AT MIDNIGHT. Other newspapers would be forced to report it as well.
Confusion reigned in the United States owing to news reports that later were found inaccurate. Some reports said Titanic was okay, others not. It was attributed, in part, to mashed up wireless messages that got reported widely in the press making it sound less of a tragic event than it really was. The New York Times was one of the papers that got it mostly right. Final confirmation of what happened would occur when Carpathia arrived bearing the survivors and the only remaining parts of Titanic to survive–the lifeboats.
If researchers at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia are right, best to be on a ship sinking slowly rather than one sinking fast reports the New York Times. They concluded the rate of sinking results in either “Women and Children First!” or “Every Man For Himself!” scenarios. Titanic’s sinking (1912) and Lusitania’s (1915) were used to test their hypothesis. Titanic sank slowly allowing for more children and women to survive. Lusitania sank fast so women and children had a lesser chance to survive.
“When you have to react very, very fast, human instincts are much faster than internalized social norms,” said Benno Torgler, an economics professor at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, and one of the authors of the study, published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
I am not sure this really tells us anything new about human behavior. There were a lot of factors that played into how many survived Titanic. And “Women and Children First” was not universal on Titanic. Lightoller enforced it but not other officers. There also was little panic. Lusitania, on the other hand, is a different story. A torpedo fired from a German submarine fatally ruptured her. She went down fast and everyone had to race to the lifeboats. In such situations, there is little time. One must move fast.