Blog | Monday, November 3, 2014

Ebola virus outbreak goes viral!

While I haven't devoted significant space on this blog to the news media, it is not because I do not have strong opinions on the current state of journalism. Indeed, I could write an entire blog on the subject, and many have.

News acquisition and analysis have always been important facets of my adult life. I spend many hours every week reading various newspapers and other materials to gain new perspectives on the issues of the day. Nearly every morning, I send items of interest to a close circle of friends and family. I read news and opinion, although sometimes it's hard to tell one from the other. I am always drawn to opinions that differ from my own. While there is excellent journalism today, the profession is deeply flawed by a blow-dried approach that appeals to our tabloid lust and their desire for increased ratings.

Just because it's above the fold on Page 1, doesn't mean it truly deserves this prime real estate. Pick up your own newspaper and see what the leading articles are. It's likely to be some local crime outbreak, while news that really matters is either a small item pages later, or may not appear at all.

Turn on CNN. Set your stopwatch to measure how many minutes it will take before the bright banner of BREAKING NEWS flashes across the screen. All that's left is for Wolf Blitzer to announce:



How has the media performed with the Ebola issue? Poorly, in my judgment. First, the coverage has been absolutely suffocating on major TV stations and has been on Page 1 of newspapers for days now. Is this an important issue? Of course. Are there public health ramifications? Definitely. Has the media heightened public fear beyond the science? Without question.

When the media, particularly television, sinks their fangs into an issue, they will feed upon it until either the ratings start to ebb or some new fresh meat draws them away. Remember how CNN covered the Malaysian airplane disappearance?

While Ebola is clearly newsworthy, the number of infections and fatalities that have occurred here in the U.S. can be counted on one hand, with a few fingers to spare. My point is that the coverage has been disproportionate to other issues that have been sidelined, as the media routinely does.
• 30,000 Americans will die of flu this year
• 11,000 expected U.S. deaths by firearms this year.
• About 100 U.S. highway fatalities daily with a yearly estimate of 30,000 victims

Where's the proportionality? While every life is sacred, why are big stories buried and much smaller ones sensationalized? Last night, I came home and declared that my domicile would be an Ebola-free zone for the evening. This meant there would be no TV news for us. I feared that even turning on a random TV channel could violate my edict as Ebola coverage is omnipresent. To make sure that we were in compliance, we pursued a safe entertainment alternative. Netflix!

Ebola, a deadly virus, has gone viral in the press. The media, as always, perpetuates journalistic contagion. Maybe they should be quarantined?

This post by Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, appeared at MD Whistleblower. Dr. Kirsch is a full time practicing physician and writer who addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.