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Media Rant: Swine Flu Madness

Jason Lee/Reuters

Jason Lee/Reuters

Monday, April 27. Coming off the high of a beautiful NYC weekend, I am awakened by the voices of Matt Lauer and Merideth Viera as they report on a new rare virus that has penetrated the U.S. from Mexico, derived from pigs.  Well, I gave up swine 12 years ago, so initially I figured this wasn’t my problem, so I slowly faded back to sleep.  Then more reports–this flu virus was the news of the day! Fourteen cases of death in Mexico.  Seven children and adults plagued with the virus right here in NYC and growing in numbers across the U.S.  The next thing I knew–by end of day, we were told to avoid any unnecessary travel to Mexico…schools were closing. Face masks were being distributed in Mexico and select U.S. cities. Tourists in Mexico City were panicking, worried that they may not make it back home alive. My goodness! I felt like I was witnessing a real life version of the 1995 movie Outbreak in only one day. 

All of this, I learned by simply picking up my daily newspaper, checking out my favorite news web site or watching CNN, as I often do on most evenings. The entire world was in a panic, and all we could do was watch the news.. and maybe get a face mask or two. Throughout the week, we couldn’t excape the endless stories: “How do you know if you have swine flu or seasonal allergies?”  “Best ways to get a refund on travel due to the swine flu”… or my all-time favorite: our own Vice President Joe Biden’s lovely Sarah Palin-ish confession of avoiding subways and airline travel to prevent himself from contracting the swine flu.  No matter what the Obama administration said to clean it up–he got caught up in the hype just like everyone else.

Fast forward to Monday, May 4.  (one week later) Coming off of a damp NYC weekend, I am awakened by the voices of Matt Lauer and Merideth Viera once again, as they read the latest update on the swine flu.  “Have we overreacted when it comes to Swine Flu.”  Headline in the May 5th NY Times: “Health Officials Start to Ease Public Alert About Swine Flu.” All week, there have been reports that this flu is not exactly life threatening, in comparison with the common flu. Meanwhile Mexican residents in China are being held hostage.  Parisian baggage handlers are refusing to handle bags coming from Mexico. And in the midst of it all, Mexicans are starting to feel discriminated against as they are being treated like the plague.

The fact that most media outlets are questioning the fact that this  has become global hysteria is actually hilarious.  They set the stage, creating all of the excitement, fear and fury. Now, a week later, they want to criticize themselves (and others) by saying that perhaps it was all blown out of proportion.  Of course it was!  And now it’s finger pointing time–something that we do all so well!

Next Monday, May 11, I wonder what Matt and Merideth will have to say about the swine flu.  Was it all one big bad joke to keep our attention away from the fact that our economy is in the toilet, we still have soldiers losing their lives for a worthless cause and, well.. did I say that the economy was in the toilet?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking anything away from this disease which has claimed the lives of adults and children.  I just think that mass media should be more responsible when it comes to reporting news. Especially when information is so readily available these days. The ability to cause global hysteria is 100 times easier now than ever before.  It’s a deadly bullet.  Hopefully this is a lesson to use it wisely.

Last 5 posts by Sherry J. Bitting