Via Mediaite, the outfit responsible for posting this clip to YouTube is none other than Media Matters, making this a rare case of a lefty hatchet shop approvingly circulating a segment from Fox News. But it makes sense. Obama’s under pressure because he and the CDC seem to keep getting surprised by developments, first when an Ebola patient showed up in the U.S. (“unlikely,” Obama claimed last month) and then when he transmitted the disease to two nurses. Shep’s PSA here was earnestly delivered, I’m sure, but Media Matters naturally enjoyed it twice over because it turned down a little of the heat on President Precious.
John Ondrasik’s right, though:
It's not the fear of Ebola that's creating hysteria, it's the fear that our gov't is incompetent in protecting us from Ebola. #54F
— John Ondrasik (@johnondrasik) October 15, 2014
A couple of points here. One: Shep, in lecturing people on the facts, doesn’t have all of his facts right. He claims that the second nurse had no symptoms whatsoever when she flew to Cleveland on Monday. Not true; she had a slight fever of 99.5. Whether that qualifies as a symptom of Ebola is disputed, since typically you’re not considered symptomatic until your fever is 101.5 or higher. But if the head of the CDC himself thinks she shouldn’t have flown, Shep probably should have mentioned the fever — or, if he’s unaware of it, should have been more cautious in his pronouncements. Seeing bold assertions about the disease disproved is one of the reasons the public is jittery, which, again, is Ondrasik’s point.
Two: On the one hand, who needed to be told any of this at this point? The meme du jour in the media is that you can’t rightly be worried about Ebola unless you’re intent on getting your flu shot this winter. After all, flu is more contagious and will assuredly kill many more Americans next year than Ebola will. As a matter of basic risk management, that should be a higher priority. You can make the same point with cigarettes, fatty foods, etc. E.g., “You’re more likely to die of ______, therefore you should be more worried about that than Ebola.” Any reasonably intelligent person who’s been following the news grasped that weeks ago. And yet: The disease is exotic, highly lethal, gruesome in its symptoms, already at the pandemic stage in Africa, and hasn’t been studied nearly as much as more familiar pathogens. It’s already spread to people whom, we were told, would be protected. By their own admission, federal officials have made mistakes. Go figure that the public is nervous. Ace wrote a post recently (I can’t find it offhand) about how the media tends to avoid certain subjects not because those subjects aren’t newsworthy but because they think the public is a bunch of rubes that’ll misbehave, possibly in sinister ways, if those subjects are broached. (His peg for that, as I recall, was the data cited by Bill Maher about how illiberal some Muslim countries are.) There’s a whiff of that here with Shep. He can’t avoid the news about Ebola — it’s too hot — but he’s all but scolding the audience for paying attention to it. Why are you, the loyal Fox News viewer, interested in a few isolated cases in Texas of a disease you’ll never be remotely exposed to?
On the other hand, there are a lot of low-information voters out there, aren’t there? Remember those videos of people who don’t know who Joe Biden is? Imagine what they must think is happening with Ebola right now. And Shep’s shpiel here is as much an indictment of media hysteria as public hysteria. You can’t see it in the Media Matters clip, but go watch Mediaite’s cut of this segment and you’ll find one of Fox’s own correspondents referring to “widespread panic” among the public about Ebola. That’s untrue and Shep calls him on it. There is, increasingly, some anxiety that Team Hopenchange isn’t equal to the task, but widespread panic? And to the extent there is panic, it’s partly a product of dumb jump-the-gun reports like this one about a few passengers getting sick on a flight and, hey, it might be Ebola. Shep’s aiming this at the lowest common denominator in his audience, which is annoying to everyone who isn’t part of that denominator but probably pretty darned enlightening to everyone who is. It’s weird that we would still need PSAs on the basics of the disease three weeks after everyone started paying attention, especially in an age of omnipresent media, but like I say, the “who’s Joe Biden?” crowd is out there. And they’re probably more nervous than they should be.