Bioethics Blogs

Dr. Fauci or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Hate the Media’s Coverage of Ebola

by Kayhan Parsi, JD, PhD

Although the Ebola virus is not ubiquitous, media coverage of it certainly is. A quick Google search of Ebola results in 37,700,000 hits. By comparison, Googling Obama results in 34,200,000 hits (although googling Obama and Ebola together results in 91,800,000 hits). Media coverage of Ebola has displaced many other news stories over the last few weeks. WNYC’s On the Media has tried to temper the over-the-top media coverage. They even posted a Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook. Yet, the media juggernaut continues. Why does the US media obsess over public health matters that pose modest risk here, yet ignore much greater risks?

Of course, the media frenzy over Ebola is nothing new. Remember H1N1? How about SARS? Anthrax, anyone? We engage in this almost ritualistic media dance every few years when a potentially harmful, even lethal, contagion is constantly reported by the media. A few tragic deaths occur, the CDC tries to allay individuals’ fears, and then everyone goes back to their state of normalcy. Yet, we don’t seem to learn from this semi-regular rite of passage with the media.

I recently dusted off my 2006 copy of False Alarm by Marc Siegel. A physician and commentator, Siegel noted the strange paradox that individuals in the industrialized world live longer than ever, yet live under a constant state of anxiety, fear, and worry. He states that “illness is no longer accepted as part of the natural order of things, and as consumers, we have become terrified of all disease, even though most of the time, doctors can diagnose an illness and offer either a cure or an effective treatment.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.