Stewart and Swine Flu

28Apr09

As swine flu bubbles as the next big “epidemic,” I can’t help but get frustrated at the media for their coverage of the disease. No matter what the disease or its true threat, journalists and news networks can’t help but sensationalize the threat to sell the story. Yes, death and chaos sells but at what cost? Global panic? Remember SARs, how scary that was and how that was going to kill us all? How many people actually know someone who contracted or died from SARs? Chances are unless you were living in Asia at the time, none.

As Jon Stewart pointed out in this clip from last night’s episode of The Daily Show (be warned, this clip is funny, full of insightful media critique, but contains some jokes and language that may be offensive to some viewers), the media tells us not to panic while reporting the story in a “we’re all going to die” frame. The main focus of news stories has been on where its spreading, the increase in cases around the world, the number of deaths, and the pandemic that could ensue. But by the fourth heart-wrenching story of a quarantined flu victim, I start to hyperventilate and wonder how this thing spreads, what symptoms do I need to worry about and how I can prevent myself from getting this disease. But it took seven articles to find this link that actually sent me to some helpful information. That’s unacceptable. When it comes to health, we do need to know how many people have died of this thing and where its spreading and how fast, but I think more importantly we need to know what we can do to help save ourselves and stop the disease. Too often, journalists and editors massively fail on this front.

During my internship at my local daily, The Daily Press, I had to cover a story about the first case of West Nile Virus in our area. It was a dead bird. My editor specifically warned me not to blow this story out of proportion. I needed to talk to the officials and relay to our readership the reality of the threat or lack of threat. So I wrote a story telling people that a robin had died of West Nile Virus, how people get it, that less than one percent die of it and how people can minimize their risk of getting the disease. And guess what: to my knowledge, no one in the Victor Valley contracted or died from West Nile Virus. Best of all, no one panicked. While my story might have been boring and buried, it was honest and did a service. Maybe I’m too idealistic, but I think this is much more important than the sales and higher ratings. The press has a lot of power in how the public reacts to these issues, and (not meaning to be cheesy but it’s going to happen anyway) with that power comes great responsibility.

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One Response to “Stewart and Swine Flu”

  1. Now it’s ranking last on the number of things that could kill you in Mexico…yep, first is still bullet flu! Bullet flu is of course an airborne virus in Mexico.

    Epic win, right there. Epic win.


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