First, here is a sampling of facts the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga., released regarding the Ebola virus: 1. From early August of this year to Nov. 20, at least 10 people have been treated in the U.S. for the Ebola virus. 2. A majority of those stricken are medical workers. 3. Six of the 10 were diagnosed in West Africa—where the virus has infected and killed thousands—and flown to the United States for treatment. 4. Two people who traveled from West Africa to the U.S. were diagnosed here and died. 5. At least two people have been successfully treated and cured of the deadly virus.
Here’s another fact from the CDC: “Ebola was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
And one more: The virus can only be transmitted through direct contact with blood or bodily fluids, including semen, saliva, urine, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, or contact with contaminated needles/syringes. Symptoms include severe headache, fever, muscle pain, weakness, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and unexpected bleeding or bruising.
Given these—and many more—available facts about Ebola, does the mass media create a sense of fear in the public with its coverage? Have many of the media choose to be first with a story and sacrifice being right and reporting facts?
According to Pewresearch.org, “Ebola ranks among the highest in news interest since 2010. News about Ebola dominates the airways and permeates midterm campaigns; Americans are following the ongoing story at historically high rates.”
Dr. Shearon Roberts, an assistant professor in Xavier’s Department of Mass Communication, has analyzed news coverage and believes packaging of news stories has affected public response.
“The information put forward by the media in general was accurate,” Roberts said.“It was the presentation of the information that was sensational. In my analysis of the primary news networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, and the 24-hour cable networks, they stuck to the CDC definitions of the spread of the disease. The media reaffirmed that the disease could only spread after a person developed symptoms if someone came in touch with an infected person’s bodily fluids. What led to misinformation was the endless analysis by commentators about the handling of the first diagnosed case [in the U.S.] and the more recent case of the New York-based healthcare worker.”
Media sources such as radio stations, news stations, and magazines had a lot to say without knowing all the facts. They began to ask questions that the public wanted answers to, and in a way created a sense of fear.
“In the absence of a Surgeon General who is non-existent due to a dysfunctional and highly politicized Congress, and consequently, credible authentic scientific and medical information, this country is left to its own devices of ignorance, misinformation and fear-mongering regarding this crucial national health issue. I do not see the national media as mitigating this circumstance in a positive manner,” said Dr. Karen Moore, an associate professor in the Department of Languages.
As the Ebola crisis continues, it will be interesting to determine how many reporters stick to ethical practices and report a story that is not only timely but also true.
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