A simple five-letter word has instilled fear among Americans. This word has caused many across the nation to obsess over hygiene, dread contact with their own neighbors and compulsively watch the news for exaggerated updates. Even on college campuses, including at Rider, concern has been expressed over this issue. Rider inquired about students traveling to infected areas, primarily out of their worry. This one topic has been the spotlight of the media and the attention of Americans: Ebola.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that Ebola is a rare but deadly viral infection spread through blood or other body fluids, as well as through contact with an infected corpse. Although the definitive source is unclear, the CDC says the virus likely emerged from animals, specifically bats. The outbreak has spread through much of Western Africa, in countries including Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In discussing the risk of Ebola spreading to the United States, the CDC said on its website, “Ebola is not spread through casual contact; therefore, the risk of an outbreak in the U.S. is very low.” The average American has no reason to be consumed by concern. So, why is fear spreading more than the virus itself?
We at The Rider News find that our fellow media outlets in the United States are guilty of first-degree exaggeration. For example, a school in Ohio was recently closed after their principal traveled to Africa this past summer, though he visited the eastern section of the continent. In other parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, the coverage of Ebola is focused on what is occurring in West Africa, but is also intended to alleviate anxiety about the spread of the disease.
Russell Howard, English comedian and presenter, did a segment on his TV show Russell Howard’s Good News that highlighted the differences between American and English coverage. He called coverage in the United Kingdom “calm, measured,” while stating media in the United States “have worked the American people into such a frenzy.”
The media are fear-mongering our people in a desperate ploy for viewers and attention. Out of 316 million people in the nation, only four people have contracted the disease and only two of those four have died after contracting the disease in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Ebola is not a looming threat on our country, not one we have to obsessively fear. Unless you are traveling to those African countries or coming in contact with an infected person, your risk of contracting the virus is extremely low.
An article in the New Republic criticizes its fellow media outlets for distorting the truth behind Ebola. Journalist Eric Sasson accuses the media of stating reassuring facts, but then implying that they may be incorrect and focusing instead on hypothetical situations intended to incite terror rather than educate. An example that Sasson cites is an ABC News article that retraces the steps of Dr. Craig Spencer, one of the few in the United States to test positive for Ebola. The article bolsters fears, outlining every coffee stand and bowling alley Spencer visited, as though those places now carry the virus. However, as the CDC tells us, Ebola is not spread through such contact.
Fears were sparked here at Rider when Princeton resident Dr. Nancy Snyderman broke the restraints of her quarantine despite concerns about her having Ebola. However, as we have all learned from the CDC, Ebola does not spread this way and we have no logical reason to be concerned. We don’t need to cower in our dorms and fear human contact. We can stop sanitizing obsessively before and after each class. We can take a breath and relax.
The presence of the virus is important, as it is devastating to people in Western Africa. Peering through international lenses reveals it as an issue that needs to be discussed. However, despite our irrational fears, we are paying little mind to those actually suffering.
Senior journalism major Robert Knuckles, whose parents and family are from Liberia, said, “The reason why you’re not taking it seriously is because you’re not the people in Africa that’s getting affected by it. Our family is getting affected by it, so, of course, we take that very seriously.” This is an issue that all Americans, including us college students, should be educated about and take with far more than a grain of salt. This problem should be faced with respect, not fear.
Instead of miseducating our people, the media should bring awareness to an issue that is causing our fellow humans in Africa to suffer immensely. To prevent Ebola overseas, these countries need the right aid, through access to better sanitation and proper medication.
The CDC has set up a foundation for combatting Ebola and UNICEF is working to help children orphaned by the disease. It is as simple as a donation to assist those in countries who are actually combatting the virus as we live our lives normally. We as Americans must not fear and cower but should instead work to stop Ebola, whether it prowls our soil or not.
The weekly editorial expresses the
majority opinion of The Rider News.
This week’s editorial was written by the Opinion Editor, Samantha Sawh.
Printed in the 11/19/14 issue.