Over the last week or so, ever since the first Ebola case was diagnosed in the United States, there’s been quite the panic with many people in regards to the illness. And while I understand the concerns felt by many, some of those concerns are misconceptions about Ebola rather than facts.
Then again, it’s to be expected since some media outlets seem to be doing just about everything they can to stir up as much fear about Ebola as possible. After all, fear sells. When you push fear, ratings go up and these people make more money.
And when it comes to pushing fear in the media, nobody does it better than Fox News. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that they’ve been doing just about everything they can to ratchet up as much fear about Ebola as possible. Which isn’t really all that difficult to do with conservatives.
Well, science journalist Miles O’Brien had some harsh words for Fox’s coverage of this situation. During an interview on CNN’s Reliable Sources, they played a clip from Fox & Friends where co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck seemed shocked that a medical expert wasn’t more alarmed about this Ebola patient being in the United States.
“I wish everybody could take a deep breath and take a break from trying to pull viewers in by scaring them,” O’Brien said. “It borders on irresponsibility. But there is a perception that by hyping up this threat you draw people’s attention. It’s a shame to even say that, and I get embarrassed for our brethren in journalism.”
“We could digress into what motivated that, the racial component of all this, the arrogance, the first world versus third world,” he continued. “It’s offensive on several levels. It reflects, frankly, a level of ignorance we should not allow in our media and in our discourse.”
He also went on to say how it’s embarrassing that practically no major media outlets regularly staff science reporters to cover scientific topics.
But his comments about the media’s coverage of this situation, and Fox News’ coverage in particular, is exactly right.
I’ve seen medical experts on various cable news channels explaining some very basic facts about Ebola, only to have these various media personalities essentially doubt everything they’re saying because it doesn’t sound “frightening enough.” Which is essentially what Hasselbeck was doing. She wasn’t getting the proper level of panic she was looking for, so she tried to create some of her own.
When I see reports about this situation I see headlines like “Up to 80 People Exposed to Ebola,” instead of “Nobody Exposed to Ebola Showing Signs of Catching Disease.” Because, of course, the first headline generates much more interest because it sounds much more alarming.
But the fact is, it’s now been over a week since this man was quarantined in Dallas and not a single person he had been in contact with has apparently shown any signs of having it. And while we’re not out of the woods yet (21 days seems to be the magic number), we haven’t seen this massive Ebola pandemic breakout here in the United States that many media outlets seem to be pushing as a real possibility.
Again, I’m not saying we can’t be concerned about this situation. But there’s a difference between our media pushing for cautious concern and blatant fear-mongering. That’s the problem when our news is driven by ad dollars. The stories are no longer about being contextually factual. It’s about what’s “best for business.” And, unfortunately, fear makes for really good business.
Watch the segment below via CNN: