I guess because I tend to write about cutting edge issues, I have had a number of readers of late suggest to me that I should explore the likelihood that al Qaeda (or any other terrorist group) is plotting to infect millions of Americans with the Ebola virus. One reader even surmised that the infections would be created by having Ebola-infested aircraft crash into major cities across the country, thereby unleashing the virus in the heart of the most populated areas.
Intelligence, I have learned is a very fragile condition. It can be all too easily overcome by hysteria. And hysteria can develop as a condition of the masses when facts are twisted or hidden so as to allow fear to run rampant.
The Ebola virus is not airborne. It can’t be transmitted from human to human by anything other than bodily fluids from an infected person that gain entry into the body of an uninfected person. So much for the al Qaeda threat.
But still the fear exists, even in the face of real information that is readily available to those who seek it. Where does this fear come from? What flames it into the frenzy that we have seen in large segments of the population in the past few weeks?
The answer, it seems to me, starts with the media, which has a vested interest in promoting the kind of stories that “sell newspapers” to use an outdated expression. The equivalent is to gain viewers, which is why every cable network from Fox News to CNN and MSNBC has been consumed with coverage of the four known cases of Ebola infections in the U.S. The death of the first, who was badly misdiagnosed and poorly treated initially in a Dallas hospital, became such a national crisis that the president even felt the need (mostly for political purposes, I’m sure) to appoint an Ebola czar.
It goes without saying that the real Ebola crisis is in the nations of West Africa that have been so torn by civil wars and economic strife that their healthcare systems are entirely incapable of containing the scourge of the disease. Real American leadership and aid is needed in that part of the world, where thousands are dying and where many thousands more are at risk. But sending meaningful aid would probably require some kind of Congressional appropriation, which would be opposed by the Republican majority in the House and would thus be a non-starter. Instead, President Obama will send a few Band-Aids and hope that the other countries in the region will provide support.
But as for the domestic Ebola hysteria, the question must be whether the craziness just builds on itself. It does if it is not labeled as crazy but is instead legitimized by “BREAKING NEWS” bulletins on the major cable networks and by front page extra-large headlines in even so revered a newspaper as the New York Times (“All the News that’s Fit to Print”). Most modern day Americans don’t dig deep for the truth behind what gets the headlines or is covered by the 24/7 cable networks. They’re too busy watching the latest reality TV show or texting and otherwise social networking. And the broadcast networks, to the extent they hold any sway over the public anymore, are hardly providing more honest and measured coverage of the story.
If the Ebola scare has had any positive effect (in truth, it hasn’t), it has at least put the threat of ISIS slightly down on the list of “things to be terribly scared of.” Not that the latest U.S. military engagement is going away any time soon. Our Nobel Peace Prize winning president has already assured us that this latest battle against a Muslim terrorist group will last well into the next president’s administration.
What Ebola has done is allow the president and his military planners to invigorate the air campaign in Iraq and Syria without the same level of scrutiny they were receiving before the Ebola scare swept the nation. Now, while we still get our daily dose of ISISnews on cable broadcasts, it is given less prominence and is treated more like normal news stuff, almost the filler until the next BREAKING NEWS on Ebola can grab our attention again.
And the president has taken advantage of the opportunity this diversion has created, feeding into it by allowing a story to leak about how angry he is about the poor response by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) to the Ebola crisis. I wonder if he is aware that the Sacramento metropolitan area just suffered its first fatality of the year to West Nile Flu or that thousands of Americans will die from the annual flu epidemic again this year. He might even have to fire someone if that news gets to him.
They—the president and the national media—form a dangerous pair when they work together, even if they claim to be addressing separate agendas. And they probably are. The president wants to garner support for whatever is uppermost on his priority list, and the media want to increase ratings (or sell more newspapers, if you wish).
Meanwhile, in less than two weeks, the country will elect a new Congress, and while the makeup of the House is not likely to change dramatically, the Senate could very well see the Republicans in the majority. Now there would be a BREAKING NEWS story of real import. As irrelevant as the House and Senate have been to most Americans for the last four years or so (since the passage of Obamacare, really), it could suddenly become the source of some real theatrics if the Republicans get to run the whole show again.
In that event, we can fully expect that a bill repealing Obamacare will be passed, several tax reform bills will get approved, and government shutdowns will be back on the front page with banner headlines again. The Ebola hysteria will have been long forgotten by then, of course, with the media happily refocusing on the political nonsense that the new Congress will regularly create.
And America will again be adrift in trivia.