Monday, April 27, 2009

Media Mania

It was a quiet day on campus: Final's week in the spring leaves the place almost as deserted as the tail end of the summer semester. With no dorms, the only people on a CC campus this week are in class writing an exam or the faculty giving them. I was there only to be sure mine were printed and ready ... and to start getting ready for my summer class.

So I spent most of the day at home, stunned into disbelief at the media mania that was the daily press briefing and coverage of The Flu Story. I'm not making light of it, since my Grandfather told me about the pandemic in 1918, but seriously: if it is so freaking dangerous in Mexico, why do all of the networks have people doing live stand-up reports in busy public places in Mexico City?

But what really entertained me was the coincidence of some of our faculty giving a final exam in a (very) basic "college level" (scare quotes intended) math class that would be required for journalism majors. You see, they happily read the report that says the incubation period for the disease is 3 or 4 days, and then ask inane questions about the health of President Obama - who visited Mexico on April 16, which was 11 days ago. Let's see if we can figure out this "college level" problem that seems to escape the entire White House Press Corps: 11 days minus 4 days is 7 days, and 7 days is a week. Yep, that means he would have been deathly ill one week ago if he had been exposed to the swine flu during his visit.

Oh, and so would the Press Corps, who were along on the trip. I think Obama's press secretary finally made that point - that they should be concerned about their own health if they are concerned about the President's health.

The rest of the story seems to be that the conspiracy theorists among the Press are simply calling the Mexican authorities liars for saying that the man who died of pneumonia a week after Obama's visit did not have influenza while reporting as factual every other statement from the health authorities in Mexico. They must be some kind of cross between idiots who don't read their own news and racists who would never think to question similar statements from US health professionals.

They really need to stick to facts, and help people learn the common sense aspects of public health that are needed to contain the small outbreaks, the difference between the flu and food poisoning, and put particular emphasis on what to do if you think you have been exposed on a trip to Mexico by yourself or an acquaintance.

And they could also explain the role of Evolution in what is taking place.

PS -
I also really like the panic-engendering graphics that color the entire state of Texas in panic yellow or red because it has two (non-fatal) cases of flu somewhere in that huge state. BBC did them one better in this map: they colored all of Canada red for something like 6 confirmed cases.

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