journalism, politics

On media hysteria and solutions

Hey, remember Ebola? All the panic? All the breathless accusations because Obama didn’t instantly … I don’t know … build a giant dome over Africa?

Much of the coverage and much of the political response was over-the-top. Most of us knew that at the time. Others are now realizing it, but they’ve probably moved on to something else they can use to frame Obama or sell fear.

But there’s a legitimate undercurrent here, one that shows media coverage and even the occasional bit of sensationalism need not be evil:

The biggest reason (why worst-case scenarios didn’t take effect) was that this magnitude of infection was estimated to occur if things stayed the same as they were. (Source: Ebola panic anniversary: Predictions of a U.S. epidemic didn’t come true.)

And that’s true of many things.

Consider the long-standing panic that we may overpopulate ourselves to death. The roots of such fears is a man named Malthus, and his name is invoked by people who want to discredit any warning of environmental issues — including and perhaps especially climate change.

“See? THAT turned out all right! So why worry?”

But we survived rapid growth in global population not because Malthus was wrong. Not because God suddenly provided loaves and fishes.

We survived because people did something.

We reined in our fertility rates. We had massive breakthroughs in agriculture.

So if the only lesson we take from the Ebola Nightmare That Wasn’t is that we shouldn’t worry about sensationalism in academia and the media, we’re missing an important of the story.

To spin it forward — I don’t think every bit of ice in the Arctic and Antarctic is going to melt and fall into the ocean, making ocean levels rise until we have beachfront property in Des Moines. I don’t think the Alps will go completely snowless.

But I think that because we’re doing something.

Not a lot, perhaps. And we should probably be doing more unless we want to incur the costs of rebuilding all our coastal cities a few miles inland.

But we’re doing something and will eventually do more. We’ve done it with other issues as well — the ozone layer, clean-up of certain rivers and waterways, etc.

So when we’re in our golden years, don’t tell me it turned out climate change wasn’t an issue. If you smirk such crap from your rocking chair, the people who are out there fixing the problem will have every right to rap your knuckles with their canes.

At times, news isn’t really meant for the common consumer. If The Washington Post reports problems at Walter Reed Hospital, I’m not going to be the one to fix them. But others who are in a position to do something will be spurred to do so.

And that, folks, is why journalism is valuable. Even when it’s no fun to write or read.


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