How is it that some of the pending catastrophes we read or hear about in the media simply fade away? What seems so cataclysmic today barely gets a mention next week.
If only irresponsible reporting was declared an actual crime, even just a misdemeanor, there might be less of it. And a lot more doubling back to correct the record when journalists come to realize they’ve been duped.
Case in point: the much ballyhooed prediction of a widespread — even worldwide — Ebola epidemic.
Consider this my mea culpa. It’s my attempt to double back to underscore what appears to be deliberate misinformation from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Back in mid-October, I, along with countless other scribes, repeated the dire WHO warnings that new cases of the deadly disease would soon reach 10,000 per week.
Wow. What a frightening prospect. So reporters everywhere dutifully repeated the breathtaking projection. WHO’s Ebola chief, Bruce Aylward, added to his prediction saying that by the “first week in December” the world would come to see the awful consequences of ignoring the Ebola threat.
Well, we’re nearing the end of the month now, and guess what the latest WHO figures show? In the first week of December there were a total of 529 new cases. It turns out that Ebola cases had peaked three weeks before the WHO held that scary news conference.
Too bad official exaggeration isn’t a crime, either.
More WHO facts: The grand total of all Ebola cases is just under 18,000. Approximately 6,400 people have died, almost all of them in West Africa.
Those are sad numbers, but a far cry from the fear-provoking prognostication of our own CDC. Earlier this year, the CDC predicted that by mid-January 2015, Liberia and Sierra Leone alone would see as many as 1.4 million cases.
What a bunch of hooey.
My eyes were opened on this subject after reading — and then double-checking — the work of Michael Fumento, a journalist lawyer who penned a column titled “The Great Ebola Lie.”
“You’ve been lied to, folks,” Fumento wrote. “And they’ll keep repeating this Chicken Little game as long as the media keep falling for it and the politicians keep rewarding it with billions of dollars.”
And there you have it. The motive for the exaggeration? Money.
The World Bank originally calculated that combating the spread of Ebola would cost the world $36 billion. Countries across the globe began to chip in. No matter that the bank later reduced its assessment to more like $3 billion or $4 billion.
And, guess which country is tossing a very generous $5 billion into the Ebola-fight honey pot? That’s right, the United States of America. A lot of that money is earmarked to set up more than 50 Ebola treatment centers throughout the United States.
Do you remember how many cases of Ebola were contracted here? Two. Just two Texas nurses who tended to one of the few patients who came here after contracting Ebola in West Africa. The facilities we already have proved to be more than enough to treat the victims we received. Why build more?
Look, Ebola is still a deadly problem in West Africa, and we should remain hyper-focused on developing vaccines, establishing a few more Ebola treatment centers and monitoring at-risk travelers entering the United States. But I have a nagging feeling that much of that $5 billion is being earmarked by lawmakers who drank the Kool-Aid of a vastly overstated Ebola threat — lawmakers who failed to check the predictions against the reality.
There was a time when public health experts warned of a pending AIDS pandemic among heterosexuals. Billions more dollars were allocated to counter a problem that didn’t exist. Is AIDS still a scourge on the Earth? Of course it is, and it continues to effect many heterosexual black women. But the idea that the general population was at risk has now been rejected.
Driven by spasms of misguided (or sensationalized) media coverage, many people were once scared into thinking that swine flu, the Y2K computer glitch or rising sea levels were going to make our lives unbearable. Those events came and went, leaving a mark, but not the predicted catastrophe.
Let’s all put on our critical thinking caps when we hear these most ominous predictions. And to my colleagues in the media, admit when you’ve repeated exaggerations. In doing so, you both increase public awareness and your own credibility.
— Diane Dimond is the author of Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case. Contact her at email@example.com, follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.