Here’s a switch—a former local TV news reporter encouraging his colleges to be calm when covering the Ebola outbreak in America. How will that script be written for the news anchors?
“Don’t worry viewers, thousands have died in Africa and now people in America are being infected and dying of Ebola, but we don’t want to scare you, so proceed as normal and please wash your hands; now, the latest on new Sooper Scooper Ride at FunLand near downtown!”
The former reporter, Al Sunshine of Miami writes, “I’m hoping news managers won’t be tempted to turn to sensational promos aimed at scaring viewers to watch their latest newscast.” Wouldn’t that be a switch? Sunshine also warns how TV stations cover the Ebola scare could harm their reputation. Reputation?
The same local TV news that has spent the last two decades (at least) scaring viewers (mainly women 18-54) into watching the next newscast is now being encouraged to back off once a legitimate threat is lurking. I wrote about this in Jan 2010 on Breitbart.com when the web site Big Journalism debuted and talked about the 12 most prominent “scares” of the previous decade. I listed such blockbusters as West Nile Virus, Global Warming, Sars and Y2K as some of the media’s Biggest Hits of the past. How is a media that has cried wolf for so long to be believed when a real threat happens? (Answer: They are not.)
I actually agree somewhat with Sunshine, the media should not overreact, but I wonder when and why he “found religion.” I also am suspicious that this is probably a real threat, since local TV news is being encouraged to downplay it. Let’s just say—I don’t trust the kids in the TV news business to get the big things right. And this has the potential to be a big thing, much bigger than the previous “scares.”
The irony is delicious here. I’ll point it out this way. Mad Cow disease (remember it?) Zero Americans died of Mad Cow disease, zero Americans got Mad Cow disease, and only three (count them, one, two, three) cows were known to have the disease in America. Still, everybody remembers the fear that the media instilled in us over Mad Cow.Japan refused to buy American beef for two years because of it. Now we’re being told to take it easy over Ebola.
I’m not sure the motivation behind calling for calm over a legitimate threat, perhaps it’s political (we can’t do anything to harm Obama this close to the mid-term elections,) or perhaps somebody stepping outside the business and finally seeing it for what it is. I can at least be happy that I had discussions on a regular basis in TV news rooms urging my colleagues to apply reason and perspective to stories designed to spread fear—but usually the consultants and management types won out and I was told to return to my box. The reporters knew the angle they had to take to please those who controlled their lively hood.
I hope there is no reason to fear the spread of Ebola, but I also know, right now, we don’t know. The President doesn’t know (last month Obama said Ebola would not spread to the US), the Centers for Disease Control certainly doesn’t know. I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that Al Sunshine and local TV stations don’t know what the real threat is. That’s enough reason for at least a little fear. I certainly would rate it above Swine Flu.