Too late, but media backtracks on Ebola hysteria

Irony, thy name is CNN.

After weeks of all-Ebola, all-the-time coverage on cable news channels, some cooler heads are starting to realize the news channels were more than a little over the top in their reporting.

“Ebola hysteria: An epic, epidemic overreaction,” claimed the headline on CNN.com. In an interview with CNN commentator and legal analyst Mel Robbins, CNN credited Robbins with coining the term “Fear-bola,” defined as “an airborne disease that spreads through conversation, entering your brain through your ears. Fear-bola is so contagious that some victims have contracted it by seeing images and videos about Ebola. Once inside your body, Fear-bola attacks that part of the brain responsible for rational thinking.”

Robbins talked about friends’ and family members’ irrational fears that she might catch Ebola if she flew anywhere. “Unless someone barfs or poops on me on the plane, I’m not getting sick,” Robbins said.

Gee: I wonder where so many people got the idea that Ebola was a major threat to the country? Could it have been through constant clamoring by cable news channels, led by CNN, that Ebola was a threat? Could it have been through the breathless reporting about the two nurses diagnosed with Ebola? Up-to-the-minute reports about round trip air travel by one of the nurses from Dallas to Cleveland and back alternately reported, “CDC TOLD HER NOT TO FLY!” “CDC SAID SHE COULD FLY!” “SHE WAS SYMPTOM-FREE!” “SHE MAY HAVE HAD SYMPTOMS!” And now, a TSA agent who patted down that nurse in Cleveland is on paid administrative leave.

There are way too many examples of hysteria throughout the country. A teacher in Maine went to a conference in Dallas — nowhere near Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, mind you, where Thomas Duncan was treated for Ebola and which apparently came up short in its use of universal safety protocols for its health workers. But back in Maine, parents were scared enough to complain, and the school was foolish enough to put that teacher on paid administrative leave for 21 days. A Dallas lab worker who MAY have handled one of the specimens from Duncan went into isolation during a cruise. (She was tested and doesn’t have Ebola.) Students and faculty from Oklahoma who were on the same cruise with the lab worker have been asked not to come to public school for 21 days.

Navarro College not far from Dallas is rejecting applicants from Nigeria, calling it “the responsible thing to do.” Nigeria had 19 cases of Ebola, had a successful quarantine of patients there, and has had no cases in the last 43 days. In fact, the World Health Organization has declared it Ebola-free. Yet too much of the public — and too many members of Congress — are calling for a travel ban on flights from Ebola-infected countries. Even though there are NO direct flights from those countries to anywhere in the U.S.

A friend from Philadelphia was on a trip to Africa in Kenya, thousands of miles away from the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa. Yet his dentist canceled his appointment, asking him to reschedule 21 days later. A passenger who vomited on a recent flight had to stay in the plane’s bathroom the whole time. (She was tested and doesn’t have Ebola.) Hey, she was an an airplane. People do get motion sickness on airplanes.

Perhaps the saddest case was in Nazareth, Pa., where a West African high school soccer player was taunted with chants of “Ebola” by players of the opposing team during a game earlier in October. Luckily, the teams’ coaches, obviously not passing on any semblance of sanity or sportsmanship to their charges, have resigned, and the students might face disciplinary action, according to an online report in The Morning Call.

You want to think the American people are smarter than to fall for this hype, but it’s hard to think rationally when you get all of your information from cable news. Thought has gotten so irrational that nearly two thirds of those queried in a Washington Post/ABC News poll said they’re concerned about an epidemic in the U.S. Not “cases,” not “outbreak,” but “epidemic.” And this is about a disease that is passed ONLY through direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids. A major and serious concern for health workers, but not for the U.S. population as a whole.

Even worse than the over-reporting were some discussions led by right-wing commentators. On Fox News, where some commentators used the Ebola cases to bash (who else?) President Obama, regular contributor and psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow claimed that Obama was letting Ebola into the U.S. because Obama’s “affinities and affiliations” were with Africa. The worst example may have been from radio gasbag Rush Limbaugh, who claimed that Obama was letting Ebola into the U.S. because Obama thinks people in the U.S. “deserve” it as a payback for slavery.

Toward the end of her interview, Mel Robbins said there could be a few more cases in Dallas. As of now, all of the other health care workers who treated Thomas Duncan have been cleared — no Ebola. And Robbins’ advice to Americans, which has been echoed by health professionals everywhere: “If you’re scared about Ebola, you better go get yourself a flu shot.” Flu, of course, kills thousands of Americans every year. Flu, 49,000; Ebola, 1.

At the same time this interview with Robbins was being aired, the headline on the screen behind the CNN host still said “EBOLA EPIDEMIC.”

I guess CNN just can’t let it go.

 

 

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