Readers of this page can tell you, I'm no fan of the news media. Many people despise the mainstream media to the point that it's almost become a hip cliche, paricularly among bloggers. However, I'm not one of those individuals who has the inflated sense of self-importance to believe that somehow what I'm doing here is better than what Anderson Cooper or Brit Hume does. The difference is that I don't have the responsibility to provide the correct information. The media does have this responsibility, but fails miserably in supporting it.
Example? Bird Flu. Every major mainstream media outlet has frontpage coverage of Bird Flu. MSNBC.com even has an entire subsection of the website dedicated to the latest information about Avian Influenza. A common theme in the media coveraage is the use of the word "pandemic" and headlines like "Dire outlook for bird flu." "No nation prepared for bird flu."
However, if you look at facts provided by the World Health Organization, it paints a stark contrast to what we're seeing in the media. Much like the SARS coverage from the last few years, the mainstream media has taken a health issue, and created unjustified paranoia. If you read the above link from WHO, you'll learn, among other things:
- Avian Flu is common worldwide, and has been for years.
- Avian Flu generally infects only birds and pigs.
- A previous "outbreak" of Avian Flu occurred in Hong Kong in 1997 infected 18 people, and killed 6. Healthcare workers who cared for infected individuals did not have severe symptoms.
- 60 people in Asia have died so far in this most recent "outbreak".
Nevermind that approximately 63,000 people die every year from People Flu. Forget the fact that worldwide, nearly 3.1 million people die from AIDS annually. The mainstream media wants you to be worried about Bird Flu. Or Shark Attacks. Or What Danger Lurks in Your Home. Think I'm just being a dick? Enter What Danger Lurks In Your Home into Google and browse through some of the 340,000 results that you get, and how many of them are news reports about things that probable are neither dangerous nor in your home.
The point is that Avian Flu, Shark Attacks, and Danger that Lurks in Your Home are worth worrying about. But, it's apparent from our little excercise that the media distorts the relative importance of these issues. I was going to make a bar graph comparing AIDS deaths to good old Human Flu deaths and Avian Flu deaths, but your computer screen is not large enough to get the scale right. The Avian Flu deaths would be the thickness of Dick Cheney's weiner and AIDs deaths would be the length of mine. Question what you read, see, and hear, even from this site, since you never know when I'll be pulling your leg.