More frustratingly misleading press

I don’t think the press realizes the harm that they do by whipping the public up into a frenzy. Its hard to be rational when so-called respectable news outlets are willing to sensationalize stories rather than report the facts.

Take for example the latest MSNBC.com rehash of the New York Times article on the leaked U.S. pandemic preparedness plan.

You don’t have to go any further than the headline for the article, “Report: Plan shows U.S. not ready for flu crisis - Draft plan shows that Asia outbreak could hit U.S. within weeks or months.”

If you stopped there, might be under the impression that the flu was coming and we weren’t ready for it. You’d reach that conclusion because that’s what the headline actually says. You actually have to read further into the article to see “a large outbreak that began in Asia would be likely to reach the United States within ‘a few months or even weeks,’ and that more than 1.9 million people could die in the worst case scenario.”

Even that could easily be read as indicating that an outbreak had already occured in Asia and was heading this way. The article then goes on to describe all of the horrid things that would happen if the worst case scenario were realized. (Actually, the worst case scenario is that it would kill every living person on the planet - but no “experts” are yet willing to go on record saying that, so they can’t print it… yet.) From the fact that the worst case scenario would be bad, the reader is just supposed to accept tthe assertion that we are not prepared.

If so-called unbiased media are going to editorialize that the “U.S. is not ready” then perhaps they should take the next logical step and suggest things that might help us get ready rather than feed the flames of over-reaction.

(Apparently, many in the world are taking matters into their own hands. International pharmacies are reporting shortages of TamiFlu and aren’t certain they’ll be able to restock due to shortages caused by government stockpiling.)

There’s no question that the bird flu is bad. If it were to disappear today, the damage has already been severe. Scores of human lives have been lost, millions of dollars worth of livestock killed, and huge amounts of money have been spent stockpiling medicines and vaccines that would have little to no effect on a pandemic.

But, it won’t disappear today - its still infecting birds in new areas as it spreads through Europe.

It may very well mutate a form more transmissable between humans - but even then, there’s no certainty what the mortality rate would be. After all, if it mutates into a more transmissible form, who is to say it wouldn’t weaken in its effects?

If the worst does happen we’ll need a calming, rational media more than ever. The last thing anyone needs during a crisis is a media run amok.

Editor’s update: CNN has just posted a significantly less shrill story about the exact same draft plan.

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