- - Wednesday, October 15, 2014


The media frenzy over the Ebola virus has created so much fear and loathing among the public that it won’t be easy to dial back from the panic mode any time soon.

Ebola kills at a phenomenal rate of (now) around 70 percent of those infected, including more than 4,000 people in Africa.

But the media need to throttle back since only two confirmed cases have been discovered in the U.S. Meanwhile, enterovirus D68 has infected thousands of people in nearly every state, particularly children, with at least four deaths. The reporting about this virus has been significantly less than about Ebola.

Marc Siegal of New York University provides the proper note of caution in a column in USA Today. “Panic can spread far faster than a virus. Our overreaction is turning Ebola into a microscopic medical terrorist,” he writes.

But panic isn’t the only misnomer the media have tended to spread. Irresponsible actions and analyses have followed.

Dr. Nancy Snyderman, medical analyst for NBC News, covered the outbreak in Liberia, where her cameraman came down with the disease. News reports say he seems to be doing well during treatment.

SEE ALSO: Second health care worker with Ebola to be transported to Atlanta

Dr. Snyderman and her team, who were told to follow voluntary quarantine for 21 days because of their contact with the cameraman, violated that order. They went out to buy soup from a New Jersey restaurant, underlining the arrogance of the media that somehow they don’t need to follow the rules. Caught by TMZ.com, Dr. Snyderman and NBC News apologized for her actions.

But the media idiocy does not stop there.

Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera tweeted last week that Thomas Duncan, the Liberian man who died after arriving in the U.S., was denied proper treatment because he was black.

“Real shame of Dallas: Ebola fatality Thomas Duncan turned away from Presbyterian Hospital,” Mr. Rivera tweeted. “Was it because he was too poor, black and uninsured?”

Seriously? Every U.S. hospital has to accept individuals who face serious illnesses, regardless of medical insurance. In fact, Duncan was later admitted to the hospital, where he received extensive treatment before he died. Moreover, two members of Duncan’s nursing staff also may die because they caught the virus from him.

Next come other opportunists as a result of the Ebola crisis.

The age of electronic publishing has allowed a variety of people — be they sincere or irresponsible — to create electronic books without any basis in reality about the Ebola virus, In the e-book “EBOLA: A Last Resort: How A Homemade Vaccine Could Save Your Life,” the authors give “a method to produce your own last-resort Ebola vaccine from home using little more than household items, boiling water and an open fire.”

You bet that will help keep you warm, but it is unlikely to stave off the virus.

Perhaps it is time to take the sage advice of the late Michael Crichton, an author and a physician, who wrote an essay about scaring ourselves to death.

“So many fears have turned out to be untrue or wildly exaggerated that I no longer get so excited about the latest one. Keeping fears in perspective leads me to ignore most of the frightening things I read and hear — or at least to take them with a pillar of salt.”

That seems like good advice as all of us look at the media coverage and the actual danger of the Ebola virus in the U.S.

Christopher Harper teaches journalism at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20.” He can be contacted at [email protected] and on Twitter @charper51.

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