UPDATE: CNN updates it’s front page article to REGULAR FLU HAS KILLED THOUSANDS SINCE JANUARY. The article is a MUCH more level-headed view of Swine Flu, the realities, the concerns, and the comparisons to regular flu. Better late than never, kudos to CNN from Scouting NY.
I apologize for editorializing on a blog devoted to New York oddities, but I just want to say how annoyed this makes me:
In sum, the article suggests that Twitter “has become a hotbed of unnecessary hype and misinformation” on swine flu.
Are you fucking kidding me?
Since the situation broke out, nearly every major news outlet has overwhelmed us with panic-inducing, misleading headlines and articles that have done nothing but instill fear in the general public. Articles with headlines like “Government Declares State of Emergency” implies to the average reader that we’re in danger of a 1918-style Spanish flu epidemic, when in fact it is much better considered to be a precautionary measure to allow access to stockpiles of medication. “More Cases Found In New York” suggests the disease is rampant in the city, when it has so far (thankfully) only affected a small number of people (30 or so out of, what, 8 or 10 Million?), all of whom have made full recoveries without hospitalization.
In every article, you have to read down about four or five paragraphs before you find out that outside of Mexico, the flu has been nothing more than a bad cold. It’s also hard to find an acknowledgment that while we hear of every death in Mexico, we don’t have an accurate sick count – meaning that the fatality rate is probably lower than what is being touted. And very, very few address the factors in Mexico City (economic, technological, social) that may have contributed to the current state of the problem.
And now, as things quiet down a bit, those headlines are suddenly disappearing from the banner lines. Drudge and CNN are now focused on the Air Force One plane that swooped over the city yesterday. Other news sites are still reporting on it, but with less vigor. It feels like now that that emotional impact has been dulled, they’re losing interest.
That’s not to say I’m not concerned like everyone else – the 25-45 age range for deaths is spooky. But I’m trying to be cautious, and not panic-stricken. And yes, I agree that the uninformed, of-the-moment opinions of idiotic Twitter users does not help the situation. But as a friend points out, why not also blame Poland Springs for making water coolers around which such speculation runs rampant in offices?
With emergencies like this, we depend on the mainstream media, not Twitterers, to give us the facts without bias. And in my opinion, they’ve completely failed.
But really, what else can you expect?
PS – Can someone please point out to reporters that doctors cannot make absolute predictions? This is why, when you ask a doctor if the current flu could become a deadly pandemic, he has to allow some room for the possibility. Check out this range of opinions on the BBC, and note which they chose to put first.
PPS – So that case of swine flu reported this morning in an employee at Ernst & Young, which led the company to sterilize its offices? Turns out it was a mistaken diagnosis – he doesn’t have it. Of course, there are no headlines about this.