Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Much of the news media may be facing its most irresponsible news coverage and fear-mongering with the current over hype and piling on of Ebola.

Yes this is a dangerous and potentially deadly disease. And yes, it is a widespread outbreak in the African nations that have been hit by the spread of infection to tens of thousands of people.

But the way much of the U.S. news media has blown up the Ebola story with scare headlines, breaking news reports and lead stories on news programs is downright careless. Each newscast, it seems, is opening with the latest on the so-called outbreak. An outbreak that has infected a handful of people. And in most cases, those people are recovering well without spreading the disease, and without endangering most others with whom they come into contact.

While most medical experts continue to stress that the Ebola virus can only be spread through personal bodily fluids, and only if the patient is showing symptoms, much of the press loves to hype it up as some kind of growing danger that could harm the public at large.

Reports of people hospitalized with Ebola-like symptoms get the same media treatment as those who have it. When the first confirmed case was found in New York City, headlines blared that it had "come to New York" in a way that made some think it was a new plague.

It is not.

The real danger is the effort to grab attention and ratings that drives much of the coverage. Such over hype and carelessness leads to incidents such as the nurse forced to stay in a New Jersey hospital tent for several days after she was found with a fever at the airport upon returning home from aiding patients in West Africa. Although later tests showed she did not have a fever, or Ebola, she did not get released until Monday.

Much of it follows the same hype and fear-mongering we have seen in the past with the likes of Swine Flu, Bird Flu, H1N1 and even early reporting on AIDS. I still recall in the 80's people afraid to be in the same room with an AIDS patient, even though medical facts were clear how difficult it was to catch from casual contact.

The same is appearing with Ebola, but worse because the media landscape is so much greater today. And the media is more interested in blowing up the hype to grab eyeballs and ratings than point out why this disease is not nearly as contagious as the press would like you to believe.

New concerns have arisen that such hype and fear-mongering could hurt the effort to treat the real outbreak in Africa by placing a stigma on health care workers who go there and possibly making some reluctant to go.  There have even been reports on Ebola-related bullying.

Some news programs, such as CNN's Reliable Sources and NBC's Meet the Press, have taken a careful look at the disease. And in many cases pointed out firmly that the dangers are not what are being reported.

A great Washington Post piece back in August also sought to collectively shake our nation into reality, stating: "Why you're not going to get Ebola in the U.S."

But these days, such careful, fact-based reporting is a rarity and overkill and panic in the news is the rule. Right-wing media that is always out to attack this administration is among the worst.

But it has surpassed political angles and simply to punch up a story beyond what its reality is across the entire news spectrum. Perhaps the new CDC guidelines issued Monday will help calm the hysteria.

The Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics -- considered the bible of journalistic practice -- has a separate section titled "Minimize Harm." It goes on to state, in part, "Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort."

The way Ebola is being misreported and hyped up is clearly breaking that code.

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