Ebola in the News

Increasingly in the United States, viewers and consumers of the media are beginning to question the authenticity of the sources that they are getting the news from. In a 1993 poll by Los Angeles times, participants were asked what they were most disturbed about in the media, and the most popular answer was too sensational/hyped news (Cooper, 2008). In a 2000 poll, only 10% of correspondents claimed to have a great deal of confidence in the press, which is compared to 30% in the 1970’s (Cooper, 2008). With this being the trend, Meyers stated that by 2015 the number would be zero (as cited in Cooper, 2008). In the current year of 2015, this is not far from the truth. Although viewers still use news sources as main informants, there is a great deal of speculation regarding legitimacy. It seems as though viewers are wary of news sources these days, as it is frequently proven that they should be. In a 2006 National Poll where participants were asked what type of unethical content in today’s mass media most concerns them, the highest ranking was media bias or one-sidedness at 19%. Closely ranked was media dishonesty at 11%, and following was exaggeration at 3% (Cooper, 2008). It is clear that the main concern has slightly changed from exaggeration to media bias from 1993 to 2006, but the fact that these concerns are still prevalent present something to be concerned about.

In 2014 the Ebola crisis struck West Africa, killing over 9,000 in countries with widespread transmission (2014 Ebola Outbreak, 2015). With an initial notice of the outbreak occurring in March of 2014, the American media was generally unconcerned until four months later, when it was announced that two Americans had become infected with the disease (Leetaru, 2014). Coverage then peaked in August, when the patients were airlifted back into the states, and then again when the first case was diagnosed in the states (Leetaru, 2014). From there, coverage on the issue had become “alarmist” with CNN calling the virus “The ISIS of Biological Agents” (Helgerman, 2014). British comedian Russell Howard even touched upon the issue of the U.S Ebola news coverage on his television show, comparing the US and UK news coverage and making fun of the dramatic flair that the US had put on the issue. This plays off the public’s concern about the media exaggerating issues. In this case, the news outlets “fanned the flames” of the ebola crisis by not only blowing the issue out of proportion, but also by not presenting the public with all of the facts (Leetaru, 2014).

Helgerman (2014) states that it was strange how the Ebola news received so much attention, seeing as it is actually not a very deadly disease if treated promptly and correctly, and it is also difficult to transmit. Had the news outlets attempted to educate and reassure the citizens of the United States of these facts, the issue would not have been blown up like it did. When I asked one of my interviewees to remember how the news about the Ebola crisis effected her and the people around her, she told me, “[at] the time it was such a scary thing, like you could be walking down the street and accidentally catch Ebola…but looking back now I realize that it was just all hype.” This proves a point, that viewers of the media did not realize at the time that the story was being exaggerated. It wasn’t until afterwards that people actually realized how ridiculous the coverage had been. Another interviewee shared that, “[it] was kind of weird how the Ebola problem just appeared and disappeared…it was kind of like everything anyone could talk about for a couple of months and then it was gone.” This interviewee was surprised at the fleeting story, also stating later in the interview that he believes the news outlets were unaware of how little the US would be affected, and were caught off guard when the story didn’t progress. This is a valid point, seeing as the US saw only one death, and is currently Ebola free (2014 Ebola Outbreak, 2015).

Going along with this point, one of the interviewees seemed to be annoyed by the fact that the news outlets in the United States did not seem to have much interest in the matter until it hit US soil. He told me, “[it] sort of makes me mad that it wasn’t a problem when it was in Africa but then as soon as Ebola came to the US the news stations started freaking out. It shows how self centered and biased our news outlets can be…its kind of embarrassing.” Helgerman (2014) also touched upon this fact, that the reporting was entirely Western-centric, as it focused on only the threat that Ebola posed to the United States with little regard to the death rates in Africa.

In conclusion, the subjects that I interviewed showed concern with how exaggerated and fleeting the news had been surrounding the Ebola crisis. They also showed concern with how the US news stations were only concerned about the issue once it hit our own country, even though the problem was much larger in Africa. They were showing signs of concern in the areas of dishonesty, exaggeration, and bias…just as Cooper had predicted.

References

Cooper, T. (2008). Between the summits: What Americans think about media ethics. Journal of mass media ethics, 23(1), 15-21. doi:10.1080/08900520701753106

Helgerman, T. (2014). American media coverage of the Ebola crisis is alarmist, one-sidedRetrieved from:http://www.pittnews.com/opinions/article_216763d2-5f10-11e4-85e9-001a4bcf6878.html

Leetaru, K. (2014). Don’t blame CNN for the ebola panicRetrieved from: http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/10/24/dont-blame-cnn-for-the-ebola-panic/

(2015). 2014 ebola outbreak in West AfricaRetrieved from:http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/2014-west-africa/index.html

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