On October 25, the BBC reported that, according to the World Health Organization’s best estimates, there were over 10,000 Ebola cases in West Africa. At least 4,922 people had died from the disease, with all but 27 of those deaths occurring in three countries: Liberia, with 2,705 deaths; Sierra Leone, with 1,281 deaths; and Guinea, with 926 deaths.
At that point, there had been fewer than ten cases of Ebola in the United States, and just a single death. More significantly, all of the cases in the U.S. had involved health care workers who had volunteered to fight the epidemic in the most affected West African countries or who had cared for one traveler from West Africa who became the only U.S. fatality.
Yet the following headlines appeared in the Far Right media:
“Ben Carson Warns of Ebola Bio-Terror,” Newsmax.
“Ebola Can Be Weaponized,” Newsmax.
“[Michael] Savage: ‘They Don’t Know Ebola from Sinola,’” Joseph Farah, World Net Daily.
“Putting the O in EbOla,” Jonah Goldberg, National Review.
“How to Survive the Coming Ebola Pandemic,” Newsmax.
“Trump Blames Obama for NYC Ebola,” Newsmax.
“Ebola Weaponized By Terrorists; Great US Plague Coming; CDC Coverup,” World Net Daily.
It would be easy to sneer at this sort of coverage as another Far Right attempt to promote hysteria and to convince Obama-haters that he is, indeed, an apocalyptic figure.
But here is what The Hill has distributed over the last two weeks in its “Sunday Show Wrap-Up” reports.
October 19 was probably the peak:
NIH official firm in opposition to travel ban Fauci said it would be a different story if officials couldn’t easily track people. http://ow.ly/CZkrj
Cruz: ‘Biggest mistake’ in Ebola response is letting flights continue Cruz said the administration was focused on politics instead of a “public health crisis.” http://ow.ly/CZhjx
Praise, criticism for Obama’s Ebola czar pick Anthony Fauci called Ron Klain an “excellent manager.” http://ow.ly/CZsDh
Key GOP rep: Ebola misinformation could lead to panic “I know what creates panic,” Rep. Tim Murphy said. http://ow.ly/CZikh
Blunt: Ebola fears based on ‘long list’ of government failures The Republican senator said the government has proven incapable of dealing with other crises. http://ow.ly/CZrZv
DNC head accuses Rand Paul of politicizing Ebola Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said Paul, who’s a doctor, “should know better.” http://ow.ly/CZo84
Budget cuts not to blame for lack Ebola vaccine, Fauci says His comments come in opposition to the head of the NIH. http://ow.ly/CZvds
Nurses union head: We weren’t ready for Ebola “The nurses overwhelmingly told us… ‘We are not ready,’” she said. http://ow.ly/CZybn
Dallas judge: Duncan family ‘free to go’ tonight “We will be lifting the quarantine … they’ll be free to go,” Clay Jenkins said. http://ow.ly/CZvxu
But the topic still showed considerable staying power on October 26:
Top NIH official slams Ebola quarantines Fauci is afraid they will “disincentivize” healthcare workers from volunteering in Africa. http://ow.ly/DlKav
Fauci calls Ebola quarantines ‘draconian’ “We need to treat returning people with respect … they’re really heroes,” Fauci said. http://ow.ly/DlVxI
Christie: ‘Absolutely no second thoughts’ about Ebola quarantine “This is the government’s job,” Christie told “Fox News Sunday.” http://ow.ly/DlNes
Power: Ebola doctors are ‘conquering heroes’ The U.N. ambassador said the government should encourage workers to fight the crisis. http://ow.ly/DlY3O
Issa: Ebola quarantines stem from lack of trust in federal government “Governors of both parties are reacting to an absence of leadership,” he said. http://ow.ly/DlKGQ
There were of course, some lucid analyses of the hysteria—most notably, “The Ebola Wars,” written by Richard Preston for the New Yorker [http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/27/ebola-wars?utm_source=tny&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weeklyemail&mbid=nl_141020_
In case you are wondering whether all of this highly politicized media attention has led to actual panic, Business Week has reported that an African restaurant in Minnesota has been forced to change its menu because fears about Ebola have reduced its business by half: that’s right, the restaurant’s usual customers apparently became afraid that they might catch Ebola from the food, from the food preparers, or from the other customers, some who are recent immigrants from Africa—and by “recent,” I mean in the last several decades.
And, very sadly, higher education has not been immune to this sort of grossly illogical over-reaction. In an article written for CNBC, Dan Mangan has reported that Navarro College, a community college located about fifty miles from Dallas, has decided to decline admission to several Nigerian applicants, citing fears related to Ebola [http://www.cnbc.com/id/102087542#]. Worse, I am quite certain that other institutions have been doing similarly asinine things and just not public acknowledged what they have been doing.
One wonders if officials at those colleges have begun to budget funds for some of the Ebola “cures” being peddled online. The following paragraph is from an article written for AlterNet by Cliff Weathers: “In the past several weeks, questionable ‘natural health’ sites have made some wild claims, suggesting herbs, snake and spider venom, nutritional supplements, colloidal silver, and even marijuana can keep the deadly virus at bay or even cure it. The sites range from your typical fly-by-night sales operations to conspiracy-theorist destinations to homeopathic medicine blogs.” [The full article detailing some of these scams is available at: http://www.alternet.org/quack-sites-promote-dubious-ebola-cures?akid=12349.1081598.8s0S5c&rd=1&src=newsletter1022673&t=5]
Postscript: I think that President Obama may have missed a golden opportunity for bipartisanship in response to this “crisis.” He might have asked Rand Paul to use the “medical expertise” that he has been touting in public appearances in agreeing to serve as the new “Ebola czar.” (Paul is an opthalmologist, but interestingly he has also created his own certification board to certify that he is qualified to practice medicine in Kentucky. Perhaps he could apply the same sideways rigor to insure that our public health system is up to the task of dealing with potential pandemics.)