The Ebola crisis in West Africa is a deadly serious threat. But for many reasonable, concerned Americans it’s become difficult to separate the reality of the devastation occurring on that continent, from the overblown media and political hysteria that’s dominating our national news cycle. Can any person of intelligence stay engaged when, as our own Justin Baragona reported this week, Keith Ablow, a Fox News Contributor Claims Obama Wants Ebola To Spread In US Because He Hates America?
It’s possible to feel empathy for the two Dallas, Texas healthcare workers who’ve been diagnosed with the disease after treating an infected patient, without extrapolating that we’re on the verge of a pandemic. And to take the argument a step further (I’m looking at you Fox News and Republican lawmakers), it’s a cynical act on the verge of criminal to needlessly stoke constituent fears of the unknown for perceived political gain. There’s no medically valid reason to doubt CDC Director Dr. Tom Friedan’s working theory that Nina Pham, the 26-year-old woman who was the first to contract the disease Stateside, did so because of a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) “breach in protocol.”
There’s even less justification for leveraging the situation to foment xenophobia. I offer Washington Post writer Gail Sullivan’s piece, “For the right, Ebola is the latest rallying cry for closing the Mexican border,” by way of example. Sullivan observes “[First US-diagnosed patient Thomas Eric] Duncan arrived on a plane from Liberia. But that hasn’t stopped people from stoking fear that Ebola will spread to the United States via our border with Mexico, a country that has seen exactly zero cases of Ebola thus far. Few seem as concerned about Ebola entering the United States via Canada, our less politically-fraught border to the north.”
Less malevolent, but still shameful reporting practices have assisted in alienating thinking people. Earlier this week, Jon Stewart did a great send-up of mass media’s Ebola coverage. As the legendary Will & Grace character Karen Walker once observed of an anecdote, “It’s funny because it’s sad.” That is certainly true of the “sanity-resistant” faux analysis surrounding the isolated Texas cases. While there’s nothing humorous about the real suffering of real people, a variety of opportunists with an Ebola agenda make it hard to accommodate genuine concern with sneering disapproval. Rather than fight the good fight, it’s often easier to disengage. After all, there’s a new season of The Walking Dead on AMC.
To these layers of coverage perturbation, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni added another on Tuesday with his piece, “Scarier Than Ebola.” The writer opens with a succinct and withering indictment of our culture: “We Americans do panic really well. We could use a few pointers on prudence.”
Bruni continues, “During the 2013-2014 flu season…only 46 percent of Americans received vaccinations against influenza, even though it kills about 3,000 people in this country in a good year, nearly 50,000 in a bad one.
These are deaths by a familiar assassin. Many of them could have been prevented. So why aren’t we in a lather over that? Why fixate on remote threats that we feel we can’t control when there are immediate ones that we simply don’t bother to?”
It’s a feature of human nature that we are inclined to ruminate on the novel and titillating rather than the routine. It’s an impulse we come by honestly, but also one we should endeavor to check. To continue Bruni’s argument, there are thousands of risks Americans take almost unconsciously every day that pose a greater threat to body and spirit than Ebola, such as getting in a car, drinking milk after the sell-by date or listening to the Rush Limbaugh Show. And by indulging in the worst of our impulses, we not only ignore real risks, we enable truly terrible reporting and disingenuously motivated political speech.
But at the end of the day, Fox News and anti-immigration lawmakers are just giving us what we want. If there were no audience for this type of garbage, it would fade away. Let’s stop indulging it and regain a little perspective. Perhaps that will create space to aid and support eradication of Ebola where it truly exists at epidemic levels – Western Africa.