The Unforgivable Hysteria of the News Media's Ebola Coverage

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There's an arguably more serious pandemic in the United States and it's reached new depths of awfulness and depravity. It's not a virus, but it might as well be. To quote Jon Stewart, it's hurting America and, specifically, inciting unnecessary panic.

This is, of course, the news media's handling of the Ebola story, in which every human with a spiffy anchorman haircut, from Fox News to MSNBC to CNN to the network morning shows, is frantically delivering the most shamefully unforgivable abortion of journalistic integrity in recent memory. It's not unlike the familiar behavior of local news anchors just before a light dusting of snow, screaming, "Snowpocalypse! We're all doomed! Bread, milk, toilet paper! Go! NOW!" -- but amplified by a factor of "you will personally eject blood from your anus and eye sockets! RUUUUUN!"

A few years ago, insufferable media bore Mark Halperin told us that the far-right old-school-HTML tabloid jockey Matt Drudge of The Drudge Report, "rules our world." Not hearing anything recently to contradict such a claim, we can safely assume that Drudge continues to maintain some clout with the Old Media cocktail circuit, and if so, perhaps Drudge's website could be (ahem) patient zero in the wildly exaggerated flailing and panic-mongering in the news media. Here's just a sampling of the apocalyptic top story headlines from Drudge late last week. Before you continue reading click the play button on the following video:

CDC CHIEF: INTENSITY OF EBOLA SPREAD UNSEEN SINCE AIDS...

Customs Agent: We're Not Prepared...

Marine Corps holds pandemic outbreak drill...

REPORT: BRIT WHO DIED IN MACEDONIA HADN'T VISITED COUNTRIES AFFECTED...

FEDS SCRAMBLE TO CALM PUBLIC ON EBOLA...

Plane cleaners strike at LaGuardia...

Nurse showing symptoms isolated in Australia...

PANIC: Building in Paris locked down, 60 quarantined...

PAPER: HEAT SCANNERS NOT EFFECTIVE...

WAR OF WORDS IN MADRID OVER FAILURES SURROUNDING INFECTION...

HIGH PRICE PAID TO STOP VIRUS...

EU politicians using crisis to demand sharp curbs in immigration...

STOCK MARKET SWINGS INTENSIFY...

ELON MUSK: Artificial Intelligence Could Wipe Out Humanty...
Web Inventor: Computers getting smarter -- we're not!
Jobs will disappear...

Oversized body causes fire at crematory...

'Space Junk' Rains Down On NJ Waste Water Treatment Plant...
Nearly Strikes Workers...

I tossed in the last few headlines, unrelated to Ebola, to provide the complete end-times flavor of Drudge's site these days. The whole overblown affair has taken on a fictitious, Summer disaster movie quality to it even though every epidemiologist in the field says there's absolutely nothing for Americans to worry about. Yet the networks that claim to deliver The News have turned just two domestic cases of Ebola into a cartoonish, self-satirical media narrative, cynically triggering panic for ratings while effectively crapping all over Edward R. Murrow's grave.

Take CNN's Don Lemon, for example. On Friday, he hosted medical-thriller author Dr. Robin Cook to discuss Ebola, titling the segment, "The Man Who Wrote The Book On Ebola." No, no he didn't do any such thing, at least -- not an authoritative non-fiction work about the virus. Cook wrote Outbreak , a cloak-and-dagger novel about an Ebola pandemic which, like all of Cook's novels, features a heroic doctor saving the day by exposing a criminal enterprise to deliberately spread the virus.

So, how about this, CNN? "The Man Who Wrote a Novel About Thugs Who Used Ebola To Commit Mass Murder." Or, come to think of it, how about not hosting fiction writer whose medical degree is in the totally unrelated field of ophthalmology (Lemon simply refers to Cook as "a doctor").

Here's the eye doctor telling the CNN audience that we're all screwed.

"This kind of an illness is probably the scariest thing we can deal with."

Really? The scariest? Two people in the United States have contracted Ebola, and one has died. How many Americans died of cancer this year so far? 585,720, according to the American Cancer Society. There have been over a million new cases of cancer diagnosed this year. I call bullshit on Cook's "scariest" claim.

"The real issue here is it's -- is how quickly it can mutate, and how that's gonna effect the transmission. I know that the CDC has been saying that, uh, it has to be direct contact with fluids. But at the same time they're willing to say that it's in saliva. And we all know that when you cough or sneeze, saliva is sprayed out of your mouth. Perhaps this virus cannot live very long in the air. I don't know. But I don't think anybody knows. Can it change and suddenly become aerosol so that's another way it's gonna spread. To me, that's probably the biggest danger."

The operative sentence here is: "I don't know." He doesn't know, but that didn't stop the CNN producers and guest-bookers from inviting him on the air as some sort of expert in the field simply because he wrote a book about Ebola nearly 30 years ago! It's difficult to describe how completely irresponsible this is. I've followed cable news for many, many years now, and not since the lead-up to the Iraq War has the American news media behaved with such recklessness.

By the way, this isn't the first time a so-called "expert" has appeared on television with the airborne virus line. Dr. Mehmet Oz, the controversial cardiologist and fitness guru, has been all over television saying the same damn thing. Airborne, airborne, airborne. Media Matters noted the following:

Cook's theories on the transmission of Ebola are out of step with nearly every expert from international health agencies and the CDC. As Vox reported, "basically every health agency in the world agrees" that Ebola cannot be transmitted through the air. The CDC definitively says: "Ebola is not spread through the air or by water, or in general, by food."

Medical experts further agree that it's highly unlikely Ebola could mutate into a form that alters its mode of transmission. That type of mutation would be unprecedented according to Columbia University virologist Vincent Racaniello, who wrote: "We have been studying viruses for over 100 years, and we've never seen a human virus change the way it is transmitted," and that "There is no reason to believe that Ebola virus is any different from any of the viruses that infect humans and have not changed the way that they are spread."

I totally sympathize with the challenging goal of filling 24 hours of air time with news. I also sympathize with the challenging goal of acquiring ratings. Sadly, we live in a culture where the citizenry thrives on crapola programming like this. If we didn't watch it en masse, they probably wouldn't show it. It's as simple as that. So, sure, CNN and the others deserve a firm throttling for pedaling in sensationalism and manufactured drama, but the people who tune in and support it share some of the blame. The sooner viewers run away from fiction-disguised-as-news programming, the sooner the news will stop marketing in it.