Friday, October 17, 2014

Creating panic is not the right response to Ebola

    Americans are more likely to be hit by a train, get bitten by a shark, be buried in an avalanche or die from the measles than to contract the Ebola virus. News coverage of the Ebola outbreak is making none of that seem true, which may be the most immediate threat of the current epidemic.
    Ebola is raging at epidemic levels in some African countries. It is a horrifically scary virus that causes fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and death rates of over 70 percent. People who die from it cannot be honored with traditional burial practices. Medical personnel who care for sufferers are especially at risk. There is no cure.
    None of this makes Ebola immediately threatening in the day-to-day lives of Americans. Media, however, are all over the crisis, but not with reporters in Africa where the reality of the disease could inform coverage. That takes money and journalists, both of which are in dwindling supply these days. Instead, Ebola is fodder for the worst of what passes for reporting in the U.S.—nonstop talk and speculation.
    The result is all Ebola all the time, usually in—pardon the expression—fevered terms. And that creates real danger for those who follow current events.
    Responsible citizens pay attention to the news to make informed choices, whether at the grocery store or the ballot box. When those sources incite rather than inform, citizens are left only with emotional responses—in this case, fear. Audiences must then choose either to continue to pay attention, becoming more and more fearful, or turn off the chatter.
    The latter choice is a rational one for those who prefer not to live life cowering in the closet. Yet, having no knowledge of current information that’s true exposes people instead to the very real risk of being completely at the mercy of innuendo, propaganda and partisan agendas presented in the guise of informed opinion.
    In the present campaign climate, Ebola is being used as one more reason to attack President Obama, even though the U.S. has made significant financial and personnel commitments to efforts on the ground in West Africa. Wall-to-wall coverage of the three patients in U.S. hospitals leaves little attention on those African countries staggered by the virus’s outbreak and its global consequences.
    A healthy democracy and a strong economy need a responsible press. Africans need help to beat this 21st-century version of the black plague. No one needs panic or partisanship.

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