UPDATE: Update to this post, it is now being reported by MSNBC and other news outlets that Kathleen Sebelius was approved and sworn in as Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Every major news network is leading hourly coverage with the swine flu outbreak – and rightly so because it is a dangerous situation which is changing by the minute, and hundreds have died in other countries from the illness. Now, we are learning that this illness might not be as mild here is the US as earlier thought because the incubation time for this particular virus means that it’s possible that more Americans might be infected than we now know.
Today, a coroner in Southern California reported the possibility that this flu may have contributed to two deaths there, but later reports from the California coroner confirm that they are not related, which is good news. But the situation, however, is still fluid and serious, and it remains to be seen yet how fast and virulent this thing is in the United States.
But in the midst of this very serious global and national crisis situation, which could also drastically impact the economies of the United States, Mexico, and other affected countries, some media anchors are still playing politics as usual with their coverage.
To be fair, my problem is not with everyone in the media. There are those, like Shepard Smith at Fox for instance, who are really behaving like journalists; they are seeking out and interviewing experts, attempting to answer the questions we all have about how we can take precautions ourselves to prevent the spread of this illness.
But then there are those few – and I won’t mention their names or networks because you probably know who I’m talking about – who, instead of reporting the facts as they come in and interviewing expert sources to get answers, are treating this crisis like one of their everyday stories, twisting facts, bringing in faux authorities and biased former politicians in order to push agendas to promote their favorite social programs and or politicians.
Some of these so-called reporters are even blaming the Republicans for this crisis!
Given how unreliable the media has proved itself to be in recent years, I think most of us don’t buy everything coming from the talking heads on TV. But during a changing crisis situation where vital information makes the difference for our safety, this is not the time or the place for the standard rhetoric or for pointing fingers of blame at anybody.
An example of this very bad form of politicizing the flu crisis occurred yesterday with accusations that the Republicans have endangered us because they succeeded in removing money from the economic stimulus package; money that, while for worthwhile projects, should have have been placed in another bill but not the emergency stimulus package.
Other commentators are allowing politicians to use the crisis as a platform to push to approve Obama’s choice for H.H.S. Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, and Obama’s health care plan, both, they claim, are being blocked by Republicans. These biased members of the media are using their forums and this crisis to scare us with, in some cases, unsubstantiated and exaggerated stories, in the hopes of circumventing the normal Congressional review process for these two issues.
One of the scare stories to influence opinion regards the death of archaeologist Felipe Solis, director of Mexico’s Natural Anthropology Museum. Some members of the media, as of yesterday, are still reporting that Mr. Solis died of swine flu the day after shaking hands with President Obama! That story, having made its rounds earlier on the Internet, is baseless and has been proven false. But even so, some in the media were still reporting it even though they should know better than to report something without checking facts and getting confirmation! The truth is that Mr. Solis did meet with President Obama to give him a personal tour of the museum although there is no confirmation that Obama shook hands with him. And, Mr. Solis did die but not from the swine flu; he died about a week later after the museum tour with Obama, not the next day as still being reported for the fear it can generate.
Scare tactics like this to influence public opinion are low and degrading to our American process as well as potentially dangerous and irresponsible. There is a time and place for energetic debate about Sebelius, health care, and the many issues that face us, but it shouldn’t be during a crisis!
Obama, it should be noted, is a good example that should be followed by politicians and those in the media alike in how to handle this crisis.
So far, President Obama is handling this flu situation with the utmost responsibility; he’s making resources, like flu-fighting medicine, available and ready to go should the worst come; he’s coordinating all departments to monitor the changing situation; and, all the while, he’s out in front and public, talking to us, and keeping us updated.
Unlike the panic and tragedy which happened in 1976 when President Ford, out of fear of the unknown, and pressure from political and special interests, ordered untested inoculations which resulted in more than 30 deaths (compared to just the one original flu death of the soldier at Ft. Dix), Obama is poised, controlled, and assuring.
Both sides have their bones to pick with each other, and that will probably always be the case. But right now, during this flu, when we don’t know how bad it will get, we need to come together to fight this thing. Let’s put the politics aside for right now and focus on readying ourselves for the worst while hoping and praying that it doesn’t come.