One Tweet Perfectly Sums Up the Media's Dangerous Ebola Obsession

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

The news: Ebola has officially come to New York. Dr. Craig Spencer, a physician returning from treating patients in Guinea, was rushed to Bellevue Hospital for isolation and diagnosed with Ebola Thursday. And predictably, a lot of people are freaking out.

But if you look past the alarmist headlines and mainstream media's general all-out panic over the possibility of an Ebola epidemic in America, you'd learn that the city has been preparing well in advance for a situation like this, and that the chance of an American patient surviving Ebola is incredibly high.

Still, that hasn't stopped media personalities, who are often far from qualified to offer a medical opinion, from fueling the growing anxiety over Ebola. And Thursday, New York Times columnist Nick Bilton had this succinct, incisive response to the media circus:

He's right. There have been nine Ebola cases in the U.S., with seven of them being Americans who contracted the disease while caring for others. One patient in Dallas, Thomas Eric Duncan, died, while five have already recovered and been discharged.

In addition to Spencer, there are only two other Americans currently being treated for Ebola at U.S. hospitals (both were nurses who treated Duncan).

Outside of the U.S. and West Africa, only Spain and Germany have recorded Ebola-related deaths; patients in France, Norway and the U.K. who were diagnosed with the virus have all recovered.

And if you need a reminder on just how minuscule your chance of contracting Ebola in America is, check out this handy infographic from NPR:

Source: NPR

The trouble, of course, is that Ebola is a big story, and cable news networks have an incentive to flood your televisions with a non-stop parade of experts, witnesses, and air-filling speculation in order to compete in the 24-hour news cycle. And that churn of coverage is, to an extent, more damaging than the virus itself.

"I think there's been a gross overreaction on the part of the media," Gerard Jacobs, director of the University of South Dakota's Disaster Mental Health Institute, told Philly.com. "The flu is a much greater threat to the American public than Ebola is."

Looking at the math, it seems more relevant for CNN to put together a panel about bee swarms and lightning storms than about an all-out Ebola epidemic in America. While raising awareness about public health concerns is always good, the alarmist tone and the prevalence of misinformation in America's Ebola coverage aren't really helping anyone.

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Eileen Shim

Eileen is a writer living in New York. She studied comparative literature and international studies at Yale University, and enjoys writing about the intersection of culture and politics.

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