Jean Barker

Ebola panic in the US news

2014-10-03 09:20

Jean Barker

A lot of things are killing Americans right now. High fructose corn syrup. Alcohol. Cancer-causing pesticides. Prescription drugs. Exploding cars. Viagra-induced heart attacks...

The list is endless, but of course, it's also boring. There's just there's nothing sexy about any of these threats and preventable problems.

What the American media (like all media) like to go crazy about are the exciting ways to die, even if they're not really a threat to most people on a day-to-day basis. Scanning the news right now, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the major causes of death to Americans were two twin threats of ISIS/ISOL, which kind of sounds like a geometry problem to me, and Ebola.

Carefully contained

One is not killing any Americans at all, unless they're still in Iraq. But that wouldn't make for a good Fox News story. Of course, ISIS is happy to help with threats to "...raise the flag of Allah over the White House" in statements read out by armed 18-year-old boys who look anything but passionate about their cause. This not being sexy enough for Fox Insider (which should be called "Fox gets all their actual news from Vice"), who retitled the video: "We Will Raise Black Flag over White House". Fox never lets reality get in the way of a good scaremongering, do they?

The other hot story is Ebola, which you'd think was about to kill us all in our beds this very night. A few Americans have contracted it while covering the story, or working (very courageously) in healthcare in affected areas. One West African guy brought it on the plane from him from Liberia. These stories are getting more than their fair share of coverage, even on the usually fairly level-headed NPR. Of course, in reality, the disease is being very carefully contained. But that didn't stop Fox News' resident ag nee Oupa, Bill O'Reilly, saying that Obama should order an "immigration quarantine" preventing anyone from West Africa from entering the USA.

The threat of the dread disease just happens to dovetail very nicely with what people like O'Reilly would love to do in any case. He says the same thing should be done by Europe. So what... keep it in Africa, South America and Asia? Because it's okay if people die there, right Bill?

Thanks to all this hoopla, 68% of Americans are now "very concerned" about Ebola spreading to the USA. A few people have even asked me if I'm worried about my family's health, because of Ebola. Now, they don't seem to understand that South Africa is pretty far away from West Africa and that there have been no reported cases in South Africa. Remember, this 68% are probably the same people who have the following conversation with me on discovering my country of origin:

"South Africa? It's hot there, right?"
"No, not at the moment. It's winter."
"Are you sure? I heard it was hot."

It's a classic.

Panic is dangerous

The panic over "Ebola in South Africa" even spread on Twitter, before smart South African tweeps set the record straight.

And other reactions defy belief, like this one from an oddly popular twitter weirdo:

Right now, the panic over the virus seems like a more dangerous disease than the disease itself. Yes, it can be fatal. Yes, it's serious and must be contained. But grounding flights and leaving people to die en masse is not the solution. A careful, compassionate international response is what will save us all.

- Jean earned an MFA in Directing and Screenwriting and works in the LA film industry. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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