Wise Czar

The News Media Who Cried Ebola

Posted on: October 22, 2014

Ebola suitOn October 15, Russian president Vladimir Putin approved a law that will  limit foreign ownership of Russian media to a mere 20 percent, allowing the government to exert significant influence over what ordinary Russians hear on the news.

This is unsurprising for Russia which, despite claiming to be a democracy, has a running tab of tyrannical actions spanning from Saint Petersburg  to Vladivostok. It wasn’t too long ago that this American anchor for RT News quit on live television because she couldn’t stand the incessant state-directed bias.

In light of all this, many Americans might take pride in the fact that we have a constitutionally guaranteed free press that supposedly gets to the real truth in every situation. After all, the media is independent, existing to inform us in an unbiased manner.

…Whoever believes that had better wake up and smell the sensationalism.

It’s true that, unlike in Russia and many European nations, the United States government does not control the major media networks, an important point because the media needs the ability to question and critique those in power.

However, we run into a different problem in the U.S., stemming from the fact that the news media is a business that will do what’s necessary to earn high ratings. Indeed, much of what you see and hear on the news is purposely broadcast just so you watch it, not necessarily because it’s important, relevant, or even true.

Ebola Nation

The ongoing Ebola scare is a perfect example of this. It has dominated daytime and evening news for a few weeks now, and many Americans fear that the deadly disease will soon be knocking on their doors.

spread of ebola

The news media is sensationalizing Ebola.

And yet, there has been only one death from the disease, in only one hospital, in only one city. Furthermore, every other American who caught the illness (two people as of writing this) caught it from that one man who died, in that one hospital, in that one city.

So…what’s with all the hype? If you turn on the news now, especially 24-hour cable news, they’re probably talking about Ebola spreading even though there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that it’s dangerously spreading around the country. Analysis after analysis; expert after expert – the news media keeps milking this story. But why?

First of all, the government may have something to do with it (shocking, right?) because elections are a couple weeks away. President Obama and his Democrats want to appear like they’re doing something – what better way to accomplish that than by taking action against a possible epidemic? Remember the words of Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former Chief of Staff and the current mayor of Chicago: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.”

On the other hand, Republicans, who want to seize power from their democratic rivals on November 5, are happily exploiting the Ebola scare as a way to convince Americans that Obama is doing diddly squat.

Shouldn’t the media realize this and report the truth that Ebola does not pose as serious a threat to our lives as some politicians are alleging? No, because people who worry about contracting Ebola turn to the news for comfort and advice, and that translates into high ratings. Since the television business lives and dies for ratings, it’s important that people tune in.

It’s not the first time

Media sensationalism is nothing new. At the beginning of the 20th century, journalists wrote overly-dramatic, and sometimes blatantly misleading headlines that seriously impacted public opinion and the course of history. This style of ‘reporting” became known as yellow journalism.

yellow journalism

One of many hyped-up newspaper headlines that lead to the Spanish American War

When the USS Maine sank in 1898, journalists quickly jumped to blame Spain, even though there was little evidence to suggest the Spanish had any role in the sinking. Yellow journalists wrote exaggerated headlines that made the Spanish look like monsters. At that time, Cuba was revolting against Spain, and Americans were following that conflict very closely because many sympathized with the Cuban quest for independence.

The media pounced on this sentiment. After all, what better way to drive newspaper sales than to create an international crisis by claiming that Spain had attacked the U.S.? Eventually, the U.S. entered the Spanish American War and kicked Spain out of Cuba and the Philippines. Media sensationalism had started a war.

Oh, by the way, it was later discovered that the Spanish were not responsible for the sinking. An internal explosion was the culprit.

Think for yourself

In the end, the media hype over Ebola is no different than a high school jock overstating his female “conquests.” Though it’s definitely true that Ebola has reached the United States, it’s absolutely false that you are in any danger as of this point.

Not all journalists are partaking in this hype. In the video below, journalist Shepard Smith readily admits what his media colleagues are up to. Essentially, this is modern yellow journalism.

This is the advantage the U.S. media still has over that of places like Russia. Because so many independent news sources exist, even if most of them are hyping up the news, there are always at least some voices of reason. Not true in Russia, where the government now stands that much closer to exercising a monopoly over what its citizens hear on the news.

The most important lesson, as we have all heard before, is not to believe everything you see on television. Don’t dismiss everything as fake—that leads to other problems—but keep an open mind and think for yourself. The minute we stop doing that, our freedom is dead.

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