Via The Globe and Mail, a blast of common sense from health reporter André Picard: Don’t panic: There’s no North American Ebola outbreak. Excerpt:
Not a single person has been infected in a plane, train, automobile or other public place. This is not surprising, because the Ebola virus is not airborne; the risk comes from being exposed to the bodily fluids (blood, vomit, etc.) of someone who is infected.
The only people really at risk are those caring for the sick and dying, principally nurses, physicians and loved ones. And, again, virtually all the sick and dying are in three countries in West Africa: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
So, given the negligible risk in the United States and Canada, why is there so much anxiety about Ebola? Some of it has to do with human nature: We tend to fear new and unusual threats more than common ones, no matter how theoretical.
Ebola is a killer bug that comes from deepest, darkest Africa, so it’s scary.
As Dan Gardner wrote in the fabulous book Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear: “So much of what we think and do about risk does not make sense.” In other words, a certain amount of irrational fear is to be expected.
But there are merchants of fear – politicians, corporations, activists and media – who exploit and magnify that irrational fear.
And that is how you get the hysteria we are seeing today – at least in the virtual world. (The evidence that the general public is actually fearful and panicking about Ebola is non-existent. But there is plenty of angst.)
Of course, the media get the lion’s share of blame for fearmongering. It is easy to blame the 24/7 news cycle and the advent of Twitter for all the woes of the world.
But the media are not a big amorphous blob with a singular narrative. The coverage of Ebola ranges from the superb, like the on-the-ground reporting in Liberia from Helene Cooper of The New York Times and Geoffrey York of The Globe and Mail, through to the absurd, like CNN labeling Ebola as “the ISIS of biological agents” and Fox News claiming that U.S. President Barack Obama “wants Ebola to spread in the U.S. because he hates America.”
For the most part, the media have reported responsibly, albeit excessively, on Ebola. If you want detailed, sublime stories on Ebola, you can find them; you can also find a lot of conspiracy theories, or you can just read the headlines.
The worst headline-generating excesses have been committed by U.S. politicians, who have cranked up the Ebola rhetoric for partisan purposes. For example, Senator Ted Cruz, who called for the U.S. border with Mexico to be sealed off to prevent the spread of Ebola.