Ebola coverage has already been a circus for the past few weeks. Cable networks are frantically covering every angle of a story that is receiving far more attention than it deserves (compared to a very real and deadly crisis like obesity) — and far less critical scrutiny.
CNN has gone so far as having their respected on air doctor, Sanjay Gupta, demonstrate how “easy” it is for Ebola to spread when removing protective gear.
Their stand-in for bodily fluids?
Let’s just say that a lot of people lost respect for Sanjay after watching that segment. This is a guy who was considered for the position of Surgeon General in 2009.
[Side note: the NRA has so far successfully pressured mostly Republican senators to block the nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy — a graduate of both Harvard and the Yale School of Medicine — who would fill the current Surgeon General vacancy. Murthy has in the past supported limited background checks for gun purchases, as well as a ban on assault weapons. Even though he would have no power whatsoever to implement those policies as Surgeon General, Murthy’s nomination is being held up with the help of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.]
The cable networks — which have 24 hours of programming that they can devote to, you know, actual news — have been running non-stop coverage that lacks any depth. CNN has gone so far as to host a fiction writer as an expert on the topic, calling him “prophetic”.
At this point, the news media is only causing more confusion than anything. Instead of having their anchors ask mindless questions, perhaps they should have their in-house doctor Sanjay Gupta calmly explain how Ebola requires contact with bodily fluids for it to spread and how the infected person has to exhibit symptoms before it is contagious?
But no, they would rather play dress up with chocolate syrup.
The response from politicians has been even more discouraging. Not only has a purely medical issue been heavily politicized, blatant misinformation is being spread to the public.
“He said, look, we need to know just from a public-health standpoint, with Ebola circulating and everything else — no, that’s my addition to it, not necessarily his — but he said we need to know the condition of these kids,” Indiana Republican Todd Rokita said in reference to a conversation that he had with Representative Larry Bucshon about Central American immigrant children.
Former one-term Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown — who is now running for the Senate as a Republican in New Hampshire — said at least twice in a radio interview that people crossing the Mexican border could be carrying diseases, or even be potential terrorists. Brown did not claim to have the same concern of the 5,500 mile Canadian border, which is nearly three times longer than the Mexican border.
“Yet we have a border that’s so porous that anyone can walk across it,” Brown said. “I think it’s naive to think that people aren’t going to be walking through here who have those types of diseases and/or other types of intent, criminal or terrorist. And yet we do nothing to secure our border. It’s dangerous. And that’s the difference. I voted to secure it. Senator Shaheen has not.”
The contention that immigrants are diseased is patently false and carries more than a heavy tinge of racism. Brown’s claim that the US government does “nothing to secure our border” is equally absurd. The budget for the US Border Patrol has increased 13 fold since 1990, standing at over $3.4 billion in 2013.
Congressman Dennis Ross has said that he will introduce a bill banning travel between West Africa and the United States, a proposal that the CDC has said would make the epidemic worse. According to the CDC, it would be more difficult to trace the whereabouts of the infected, who would inevitably cross borders into neighboring countries. Ross is hardly alone in the suggestion that travel should be banned, even though actual health experts say that it is a bad idea.
“We don’t want to isolate parts of the world, or people who aren’t sick, because that’s going to drive patients with Ebola underground, making it infinitely more difficult to address the outbreak,” CDC Director Tom Frieden wrote in an op-ed.
As one person accurately pointed out, the same politicians who plead that they are unqualified to speak on climate change — due to a lack of scientific background — practically claim to have a PhD in virology when it comes to talking about Ebola.
Today’s hearing in the House was even more embarrassing. Members criticized the CDC’s response — many of whom themselves voted to cut funding to the Center for Disease Control, the National Health Institute, and to a leading prevention program for states known as Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative (PHEP).
The NIH Director himself has said that had funding been a consistent priority, we probably would have had an Ebola vaccine already. NIH has been working on a vaccine since 2001.
Another program — PHEP — is “one of the federal government’s main ways of helping local areas prepare for unexpected outbreaks. Funding for it has steadily fallen in recent years after a slight increase in 2006,” Vox explains.
These are the programs and agencies at the front lines. They are under tremendous pressure from the budget cuts that were part of sequestration.
How ironic is it for these politicians — two weeks before an election — to come out against the work of our critical health agencies?
It may be good politics, but it is wholly dishonest. Just don’t expect the television news media to say so. They will be too busy trying on hazmat suits.