prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

An Epidemic of Fear

Posted by prof e on October 19, 2014

about-ebolaI watched a few Sunday news shows today and, thanks to the DVR, was able to fast-forward through their Ebola coverage. It’s not that I don’t want to know what’s going on in the world. Rather it is precisely because the coverage that I have seen this past week has been long on sensationalism and short on useful information.

Journalists have a difficult job and I don’t want to Monday-morning quarterback their attempt to cover this fast-moving and emotional story. But I also don’t want to defend the fear-mongering and ratings-whoring that is being pawned off as journalism.

There’s always a delicate balance between keeping people informed and keeping things in proper perspective. For example, Ebola is a deadly disease that does not have a vaccine or a cure. It is spread by contact with bodily fluids of an infected carrier. And because of modern air transportation, any viral disease can travel around the world in a matter of hours. On the other hand, as of October 19th only two individuals have contracted Ebola in the US and both were healthcare workers who were treating a patient who had carried the disease from Liberia to the US. Most medical experts are confident that modern treatment and aggressive containment can prevent the virus from becoming an epidemic.

If you saw the movie Contagion (2011), you may recall that this fictional account of a global pandemic shares some similarities with the Ebola crisis. Hollywood loves a narrative because we, the viewing public, love narratives. A story allows us to make sense of the onslaught of information that is frequently confusing and contradictory. In this case the storyline is simple: a deadly disease appears (usually in some dark corner of the globe) because of mankind’s lack of respect for nature. It quickly spreads and threatens population centers in the western world. Science comes to the rescue and the hero is usually someone who defies conventional wisdom to save the day.

Sadly, life doesn’t follow the script. While we obsess over the fate of folks on a plane or cruise ship who MAY have come in contact with someone who MAY have been exposed to Ebola, fear keeps people from living life.  And meanwhile, in Western Africa, the true crisis continues out of the glare of the media spotlight.

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2 Responses to “An Epidemic of Fear”

  1. jb. said

    Agreed. 100%. Well said.

  2. Summer Bennett said

    I think that we should all be aware of deadly diseases that are out there, although, I feel as if some people take it too far. By too far I mean that people freak out to much about something that isn’t that big of a problem in our country anyways. I think there are bigger and better things that we should be focusing on rather than Ebola as of right now. It is not a big issue in our country like it is in Africa. America has only had a few cases of it but it is being handled properly. Although, it is good to be aware that things as deadly as Ebola are out there. I just believe some people take it too far or some people don’t care if it is not directly affecting them.

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