During the last Bush administration, there was always much to be said about the politics of fear. And regardless of what you think of its use in politics or whether it even belongs on that stage, you’ve got to admit it was terribly effective.
And the reason for that is simple. It’s the same reason why horror movies have always enjoyed a healthy fan base and national appeal. Nobody wants to live a horror film, but smiling while we watch them? Absolutely. Personally, not a fan. However, most people love a good scare, though not as much as the media does . . . how many articles about the swine flu have you seen today (not including this one)?
Making a profit off scaring people isn’t just a marketing tool for Hollywood or a crutch for the media. Cable television loves this stuff too. The Discovery Channel has hours of programming about the beauty of life on Earth and just as many hours devoted to natural disasters that can kill everything on it. It’s some of my favorite stuff to watch. Well, that and Shark Week…and Mythbusters…’cause they blow stuff up (boyish giggle). I digress.
With regard to our newest viral scare, the swine flu (terrible name), which is this year’s SARS/avian flu/west nile virus, the media is doing what they do best: playing with words like a kid who just stumbled across his father’s forgotten handgun in the basement.
In an MSNBC News article about the swine flu, the word “pandemic” is used 11 times. It’s mentioned six times in an article from Reuters and six more in an article from CBS. I won’t even go in to how many times the words “epidemic,” “crisis,” “epicenter,” and “ground zero” are used in related articles, but if you need a good laugh and have a few minutes to kill, have a look for yourself.
Words like “epidemic” and “crisis,” aren’t terribly out of place when dealing with something like this, and an “outbreak” is an appropriate thing to call this. But pandemic?
Folks, we are sooo far away from this being a pandemic that the word should not be anywhere near the national lexicon right now. Not in our minds, not on our lips and certainly not in print 11 times in one article.
Granted, in most of the instances where “pandemic” is used, the word’s weight is offset by saying “it’s not a pandemic” but then it’s followed up with ” . . . yet.” Implying of course that a pandemic is indeed looming. Because that’s what fear does for a living. It looms. It never really gets here.
Do you know how many people have to die for a pandemic to be a reality? Here’s a little historical perspective for you. In Word War I, roughly 16.5 million people died (60 million in WWII). But in 1918, when the Spanish Flu swept across the globe, it killed around 50 million people. Now THAT’S a pandemic.
Heck, in 2006-07, your regular old run-of-the-mill flu caused 76 deaths in children according to the CDC. The swine flu has killed roughly 103 people in Mexico and nobody in America.
So please, enough with all this Sturm und Drang journalism, okay folks? We’ve got enough to worry about these days as it is, and personally, I’m not going to let this news spoil my spring. I can’t wait to get home and fire up the grill.
Pork chops and applesauce for me, thank you very much.
But this subject does bring me to another point of contention, the absolute, juvenile and irresponsible misuse of words / language…coupled with a ridiculous disregard shown for actually understanding their meaning. As of late words such as, “Socialism”, “Facism”, “Tyranny”, “Dictatorship” and “Holocaust” have been thrown around, the users of such language never fully understanding (or even knowing) the historical context and definition (use a dictionary / encyclopedia before you pretend to conflate two completely unrelated references please…or suffer my conclusion that you are a complete idiot)…as a result, they undermine and devalue their true meaning and historical weight.
I have never used this language to describe something that I agree / disagree with…the reason? I am not a 4-year old that repeats the verbal up-chuck of a talking head who supports my world view…just because someone says it, does not make it true (Pls see: Glenn Beck, aka Massive Tool…whose viewers, I am convinced, move their lips when they read). As a student of history and human social evolution, there are certain words that require an appropriate understanding of their context (pls see: Pandemic)…so, no, “Socialism” cannot be used to describe current government spending…based upon that grossly incorrect definition, if your child goes to public school or attended college on a Federal loan, your parents collect Social Security or a Fireman has ever put out a fire in your neighborhood…you are a “Socialist”. I may disagree with the size and influence of large government and spending (did so under Bush, do so under Obama), I stop way short of calling it “Socialism”…because I have a dictionary and history book that tells me I am a moron if I were to do so.
While I am on the subject of 24-hour news and talking heads. I mourn the death of investigative journalism, newspapers and getting your information correct. We live in a society of instant gratification and (if you are in the “news” business) competition to be the first to break a story. As a result of 24 hour news needing to fill…well, 24 hour news…information is presented way before the facts are in and are replaced with a, “we can correct it later” mentality and speculative “journalism”. We rush to get news on the air, putting any idiot with an opinion on-air as an “expert”, throwing around words like, “Pandemic” to one-up the stakes and keep people glued to your channel instead of the other guys. Don’t be surprised, if by week’s end, the stakes have been upped to comparing Swine Flu to the Ebola virus.
Years ago, an investigative journalist would be afforded weeks, months, even years to develop a story, get sources on record, put the pieces together, make connections and get the information straight (also see: accurate. woodward. bernstein. watergate), as reputations (journalist and their employer) were on the line. But in an age of blogging and online media, it is no longer “cost-effective” to get it right…but rather, get it up right now. We are a dumber and less informed society as a result. As I imagine Edward R. Murrow would say, “24 hour news, are you kidding me?! Go back to getting an HOUR right”.
I recently saw the movie, “State of Play”. Although a fun ‘yarn / political thrill ride’ (my favorite), the underlying premise is the pressure that journalists have to appease the immediate and not the accurate…thereby ushering in the death of newspapers. Online is cheaper (less overhead), the trade-off is more speculation and less factual dissemination of information.
Personally, I will never give up the feel of a paper in my hand for in-depth journalism, nor that of a news magazine whose release schedule coincides with a time-frame that provides increased accuracy.
Besides, if I did, what would I read while I poop?