Ebola News Coverage as Educational as Shark Week


I should have expected the exploitative nature of news coverage concerning Ebola. I don’t know why I thought the news media would offer an educational experience. Offerings on television and on websites have much in common with Shark Week and the coverage of the O.J. Simpson disaster.

Watching a patient being transported from an airport to a hospital facility, where cars come to a standstill in at least one lane, that’s O.J. all over for you. Is it really necessary to see a suited-up figure looking like a combination of an astronaut and bouncy-house, even prying cameras unable to get close?  And Ebola is like a shark, only the media is hovering around it, no doubt waiting for its opportunity, should it arise, to show something truly disgusting, should there be an opportunity, of projectile vomiting (at least one anchorperson appears to relish saying “projectile”) or diarrhea that allegedly has been stacked up in a hospital.

Accompanying the visuals of the latest Ebola victim looking like the Michelin Man in the screen within screen mode is the celebrity anchorperson and maybe a medical expert. Everything comes down to a blame game, with the normally more sensible Anderson Cooper, to name just one, visibly ready to go in for some kind of kill, as if he could find who is to blame, as if playing the blame game really solves any health crisis.

Mind you, I am all for investigative journalism and I would have thought the 40th anniversary of Watergate and All the President’s Men would have inspired journalists to consider doing real leg work and then reporting when they actually have something to say, instead of filling up the news cycle with repetitive pseudo-inquisitions, how to wear a protective suit segments, with the occasional interview of someone who knows one of the Ebola victims, for either a moment of anger or sadness to create drama that is not palpable, no matter how hard the anchor person is trying to convince viewers.

Ebola is the gift that keeps on giving, and the media keeps taking more than it is giving. There are plenty of other issues, such as wars, the economy, elections, even some corny good news, that are being displaced as if the public wanted Ebola-TV only. In addition, journalists’ disclaimers of “we don’t want to alarm anybody” followed by questions formed to elicit responses that Ebola will spread like a wildfire across America or the opposite, there is nothing to worry about, are not helpful in any way.

CNN would be better off to show back-to-back episodes of Anthony Bourdain, Mike Rowe’s Somebody’s Gotta Do It, even a marathon of The Sound of Music, with occasional crawlers of “we don’t know anything new,” until what is already a channel that has enough time set aside for news coverage has news. And that poor Sanjay Gupta, would his time not be better spent actually doing surgery than being besieged by the sound of helicopters, covering himself in chocolate sauce, and having to be put into the uncomfortable position of editorializing whether or not a hospital has been irresponsible?

No, this is the way of media, Somebody’s Gotta Do It, which means everyone’s got to do it, where any fears of Ebola are surpassed only by fears that ratings could be lost if Ebola TV does not play 24/7. It would also be nice if some genuine medical education could be offered on television, and if there is time, since we know apparently not very much about Ebola, advice on other diseases–there are plenty of them that kill Americans every year– if the media has decided we must now be so medically-obsessed.

2 thoughts on “Ebola News Coverage as Educational as Shark Week

  1. We badly need more of these kinds of fact based articles. I’m starting to see e-mails and comments on my social media of people talking about the flu epidemic of 1918. The rumors and conspiracy talk are getting out of hand. Thanks for the essay. jp

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