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Ebola: Are the media helping or hurting?

A poll from today's Denver Post, probably representative of much of the country.
A poll from today’s Denver Post

We have a huge problem in the country right now, and it’s been created by our news media. No, scratch that. The problem is our media. It seems like every outlet in the US is devoting a huge amount of its time and space to Ebola. Far, far too much time and space.

It was bad enough when, for weeks, they covered the Ebola outbreak in Africa as though it were a full-blown global pandemic. But it’s not even close. Roughly 7,000 cases and 3,100 deaths is not a pandemic. It’s scarcely a drop in the bucket of the world’s population of 7 billion — an infinitesimal .000001%. Get a grip, people. Where’s your sense of proportion?

And then, lo and behold, all that fear mongering came home to roost. A case of Ebola was diagnosed in Dallas. A single case. Just one. And, preconditioned by the media’s 24/7 drumbeat of terror (cue the Jaws theme), it seems the nation is verging on panic. CONTAGION!! Right here in the USA!

Now the responsible media, if there are any, must wrestle with a problem of their own making. They (particularly cable news) have been hyping the story in every way possible since Ebola first appeared in several African nations. But now one case has made it to the US (3 or 4 if you count Americans infected while overseas). And after several days of the wildest, most irresponsible reporting, speculation, and conjecture, news outlets have to decide how to deal with the widespread fear they’ve generated. Even if they limit themselves to press conferences and interviews with knowledgeable medical professionals, they are still talking about Ebola.

Unfortunately, a large portion of the American public knows only that Ebola has been in the headlines for days because it has spread to the US. It must be serious, it must be dangerous, it must be everywhere because it’s in the headlines 24/7. There’s no critical reading or research. No looking beneath the headlines to find the facts. They trust the media to do that for them. And the headlines say EBOLA IS HERE!

The media’s failure to exercise some self-restraint and maintain some appropriate proportionality in their reporting has convinced far too many that we’re on the verge of an Ebola epidemic in America. And now it’s too late for news outlets to take it back, to undo it. In their belated effort to educate and reassure the public, they must necessarily keep talking about Ebola. Only this time, of course, they really mean it.

Any attempt here to recount all the reasons why Ebola is not a threat to the United States would be futile. By now readers have most likely drawn their own conclusions. There is certainly ample press coverage to support those conclusions, whatever they might be.

And that’s the fault of the media. The only information out there should be calm, factual, responsible reporting that leads to only one logical conclusion: Ebola is not a threat to America.

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