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The Media As Contagion

October 26, 2014

If, on account of the political situation, the press

has become an increasingly incredible source

of quite palpable frustration, if certain

of our neighbors have been made objects

of suspicion, or have become themselves,

both irritable and suspicious… that is our due.

This is from a poem by Scott Cairns. If it seems like poetry today is semi-perceptive musings arranged with odd line breaks and contemptuous punctuation… well… it is.  But that’s a digression. The issue at hand is palpable frustration and those who thrive on it.

Mayor Bill is now the champion of nurses and other health care professionals who have been “disrespected.”

It’s a terrible thing. It’s very distressing and appalling to the mayor and other advocates of those on the front lines in the war against infectious disease.

Oh, my. Oh dear. We’re so ashamed of ourselves. Yes, we are and maybe we will apologize profusely once we’re sure that our hero health professionals aren’t riding subways and going bowling with ebola fevers.

What is happening here? Do the people complaining not understand the phrase: Better safe than sorry?

How can anyone possibly say that holding a person who has traveled through the infected region of Africa in quarantine for certain period of time isn’t a good idea?

Doesn’t it only make sense for all concerned, including the individual?

Oh, but no, it “stigmatizes” health care workers.

Come on. To a person, we all applaud health care workers, but in our admiration, can’t we also say: We really need to be extra careful now.

Not everything is known about this disease. Why does one person in proximity contract it and not another? What exactly is the mode of transmission?

It’s common sense to be cautious now; it’s not hysteria.

And that brings us to the media, which is a contagion in its own right.

First, the media overstated the risks and stoked people’s fear about ebola, and now it has swung 180 degrees and is having a field day with the possibility that health care workers might actually be having their civil rights violated.

There’s no perspective here. No context. No cautious and careful reporting. It’s a fevered rush to get the next dramatic development — no matter how contradictory or silly it may be. Maybe there should be a quarantine on the media, eh? The governors ought to consider that one in the name of public safety.

Let us hope that ebola is indeed manageable. Let us hope that it is only a test run in preparing for the Big One that experts say will eventually happen.

Let us get used to the fact that quarantines are part of the strategy in combatting the spread of disease.

In this regard, some history is in order. Quarantines were a basic form of public health management. That was true right up until the first half of the last century. If someone in your family came down with scarlet fever, your house was always quarantined. It was up to friends and relatives to bring food and supplies until the illness passed. And nobody bitched about it. Everyone knew it was for the greater good.

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