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Media Should Stop Lecturing Americans About Their Ebola Concerns


Like 98 percent of Americans, I’ve heard the news about Ebola. I’ve even followed the news with interest for months, taking seriously the media claims that this was a serious outbreak that had potential to become even more serious.

And as the first cases started being flown to the United States or being discovered here, that interest developed.

When the news broke that the CDC had OK’d Ebola-exposed medical workers flying on planes, it certainly made me question claims of government competency, but it still didn’t make me panic. I just flew to Chicago and back this week. I’m flying to Detroit and back next week. The news that an Ebola patient has been diagnosed in New York City after a fairly active day around town also interests me. Yes, I think of my friends who live near the patient or take the same public transportation. I might even tell them to be careful. But I’m not panicked. Sure, I run through the “what if” scenarios of what I’d do if I lived near an Ebola outbreak. I consider such thinking to be the mark of being human. But, then again, I’m one of those people who likes to game out how I’d navigate a subway crash or a flat tire or an annoying conversation. It’s the same instinct that leads me to find stories such as this one, that says the rate of new ebola infections is already slowing down.

Anyway, the only thing that makes me want to react strongly is all the media telling people to calm down.

Seriously, what is up with that? The very moment that the news was confirmed about Dr. Ebola, various reporters started telling everyone to calm down. But nobody was panicking. I mean, expressing interest in an unbelievably deadly disease that has spread quickly is not panicking. Panicking is loading up your car like a prepper who just won the Lottery and heading to your cabin in West Virginia. I mean, maybe there’s someone who has done just that. But there is no evidence that we have any serious problem with people panicking. Lots of jokes about deadly viruses? Yep. Heightened awareness? Sure. People demonstrating different levels of concern? Sure. People not trusting the government at the same irrationally high levels as our media do? Absolutely. But that’s not panic! Neither is it “hysteria,” as Politico’s Glenn Thrush put it.

People, “panic” and “hysteria” are words, with meanings. Here are those actual meanings.

Panic: sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior
Hysteria: a psychoneurotic disorder characterized by violent emotional outbreaks, disturbances of sensory and motor functions, and various abnormal effects due to autosuggestion.

These journalists telling people to stop panicking — whatever they mean by that — remind me a lot of a dude telling a woman who is disagreeing with him to “Calm down already!” It’s not just inappropriate and dismissive, it’s also not helpful. Has anyone in your life ever calmed down when you told them to “calm down”? Particularly when they were actually calm and legitimately discussing something to begin with? No! I don’t even know you and I know that no one in your life has ever said, “I was feeling kind of upset that you had spent our rent money on a motorcycle until you told me to calm down. Now I’m pretty calm.”

Let’s look at how some of these exchanges went down:

So Bird Flu is not the worst comparison. Like Ebola, it has a very high death rate for those who catch it. And over the course of the last 10 or so years, it did kill 300 or so people. But Ebola has killed 5,000 in just the last few months, so I’m not sure if it’s the best comparison, even as we hope that the problem doesn’t get much worse.

Or here:


Um, OK? I mean, people do get Ebola. Sometimes they’re people who are caring for Ebola patients. Such as this doctor we just learned about. Or some of the nurses who were treating the Dallas Ebola patient. Sometimes they are just people who have recently traveled to areas struck by Ebola outbreaks. Why should this guy here trust Ben White, a reporter, that he’s not going to get Ebola?


When Chris Hayes said the same thing as Ben White here, Bill Kristol added some sense to the discussion:


Exactly. Why would journalists claim to know who is going to be exposed to Ebola? Take this from journalist Zerlina Maxwell:


Do you think reporters have any clue what they sound like when they speak about “science” and its just so powers? I get that some people have accepted “science” as their personal Lord and Savior. But you wouldn’t believe how unconvincing such Bodega proclamations are to those of us who don’t think freelance journalists are the equivalent of medical experts. Or, rather:


Peter Daou seemed to be able to navigate the divide between rational discussion of Ebola and ability to understand why humans might be interested in it:


Yes, when a virus with a pretty high death rate is in your general vicinity, it’s not irrational to think about it. Simple as that.

So what explains the media’s bizarre fixation on lecturing people about “science” and how it shows that more or less nobody can get Ebola under any circumstance, all evidence to the contrary?


Gosh, have I touched the sweat or saliva of someone who has Ebola? I don’t think so. On the other hand, I did just ride public transportation and take airplanes, where who knows what bodily fluids are caked on every door, railing, seat and lap table. So … should I take Vox’s word for it that there is not only a Bridge to Gaza but also no Ebola threat? I don’t know! I’m kind of thinking no?

More than anything, though, I just want reporters to stop lecturing me about how interest and concern about the deadly Ebola virus means I’m panicking. I’m not panicking. But I’m sure as heck not going to calm down because the same profession that knows little about everything else in the world is telling me that they’ve totally got this complex viral outbreak down pat.

I don’t know if we’re just witnessing some sort of dramatic self-soothing technique or if it’s disdain for typical Americans or if it’s some kind of psychological trauma related to journalists’ inability to deal with the failures of the administrative state and progressive ideology. And I don’t care. But there is no doubt that the single most annoying thing about media coverage of Ebola is the hair-trigger response of some to disdain any discussion of Ebola as panic.

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