Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu Coverage Makes Me Want to Be Kosher

Swine flu is spreading!!! Ahhhh!!!!! Cancel school for two weeks (I'm looking at you Texas)!! Stock up on bread, bottled water, and canned goods!!! Our world is falling apart!!! Stop eating pork!! Go Kosher!

That's how the media wants the public to react and well, like always, the lemmings have followed the (currently) false dire warnings. This is an overblown story (for now!!!) and we need to take a timeout from this craze. And no, you can't get this flu from pork, but that doesn't stop media requests for a response from pork lobbyists and cookie cutter reports on how pork consumption has decreased.

I am known to be a worrywart, but this swine flu is not something to worry about, yet. One death happened in the US and that was a toddler visiting from Mexico. That's one non-resident in the entire country, hardly worth worrying about. The fact that Texas and Alabama are closing schools and canceling athletic events is just insane.

Could things get worse? Sure, but we're nowhere near that.

This strain of the influenza virus may cause more deaths, but it's our "regular" flu strains do this every year to the count of 36,000 Americans. This is an odd strain because it popped up late in the flu season and is new, but I'm still holding to the notion that it still is a strain of the flu (H1N1) and not something like an outbreak of smallpox.

I'm not saying this won't become the next great virus that wipes out lots of people. I'm saying that at its current stage, anyone who still gets their news from 24-hour cable news channels or is unable to turn past the first page of a newspaper (I mean look beyond the first link), thinks this flu is already the end of the world when it is entirely not.

Nobody ever said TV news people were smart.

The World Health Organization has raised its level of awareness to 5, meaning "strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short." Yet our country's measuring stick, the Centers for Disease Control is simply telling people to treat this as you would any other influenza season: wash your hands, cover your mouth to sneeze and cough, stay active, get plenty of sleep, and don't go to public areas if you're sick. Hardly something worth losing sleep over.

Could this turn into something god-awful, sure, but it's highly unlikely. Did you know that between 2005 and January of this year the US had 12 cases of swine flu with no deaths? The only reason you didn't hear (or freak out) about it is because the craptacular information source, aka the news media, didn't make it into the big pile of stink this version is now. That's the root of my whining. It's time viewers learned to surf news websites and scan headlines to filter garbage stories from those of legitimate concern.

Ahhhh, the silence of an empty studio is so nice.

This frenzy follows the recipe for breakout news reports that don't reflect the scale of the story's importance. The 24-hour news channels must fill air with something, anything. The economy being down has gotten old and Obama had just reached his first 100 days (a date count wholly irrelevant to today's Presidents). With this self-proclaimed absence in worthwhile subject matter, along comes this flu in Mexico with strains appearing in other countries.

Nevermind that it's currently no worse than any other flu strain that gets passed around the world, the channels had to run with it. Cue the repetitively-titled chyrons "breaking news" and "new developments." With constant talk of the flu, other outlets decided to follow suit, lest they be the only ones to show news direction restraint.

Try a talking head's segment and ask yourself what you learned...9 times out of 10 it'll be nothing.

So now you have above the fold (or is it screen these days?) stories in every newspaper about the flu. The forever pathetic local news in every market leads with a flu update and juvenile DC radio news station WTOP has frequently unnecessary updates. With all this flu talk the public is left to only think, because it can't think for itself, that this flu is a major major problem.

The news perpetuates the fear it created because people have a false sense they need to hear more chatter that doesn't advance the story and the cycle feeds upon itself. Meanwhile, devious news directors are surely hoping for more confirmed cases and of course the holy grail, deaths. Such results fuel the flames of higher ratings for info-tainment when little changes despite the cry wolf chyrons that are always on.

Eventually you'll get misinformation that eating pork will give you the flu.

Like Slate's article from Tuesday, "What happened to avian flu?", this strain most likely will go away and we won't pay attention, but it'll still hang around. Preparation for the Avian flu has helped things mobilize better for this flu strain so such worries have helped things get moving, but if you're not running a hospital you might as well just treat this like a normal flu season.

More swine flu talking heads provide more information on what would have to occur to make things bad enough to where you need should treat this greater than typical flu season. As the Post's Howard Kurtz wrote much better than this entry and in fewer words:
With front-page headlines, constant cable-news updates and top-story status on the evening newscasts, the outbreak -- with at least 40 confirmed cases in the United States -- was inescapable. But the sheer volume of media attention suggested a full-blown crisis.
It also doesn't help things when VP Joe Biden didn't think before he spoke when Matt Lauer asked...
...[him] what advice he would give a family member who wanted to jump on a commercial airliner to Mexico, ground zero of the swine flu outbreak.

'I would tell members of my family -- and I have -- I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now," said Biden, adding that it's not so much the destination as the means of getting there that concerns him.'

Good news directors, meaning the scum whose job depends on their ability to create fear and panic for suckers that are unable to think for themselves and discern a story's real world scale of importance, should do their due diligence and give updates on the next flu virus that comes through this fall. You know, the strain that wasn't covered in everyone's flu shots. The one that's spreading across the country, causing deaths and runs on prescription drugs.

The viral cycle will begin anew.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great coverage of the Swine Flu "story"

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