Swine Flu and TV sweeps: a recipe for disaster

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The ShopTalk newsletter today describes the ugly TV news “shoving match” in Orlando over “the first report that a case of the swine flu was confirmed in Orlando.” ShopTalk writes:

“Pity the poor viewers, who have to sort through all the hype and hysteria to find the facts.”

Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawick writes:

“Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the CNN and CBS medical correspondent, was reporting from outside a hospital in Mexico City using such terms as “ground zero” and “chaos” to describe the situation.

Tuesday morning, on NBC’s top-rated Today show, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, the show’s health expert, was reporting “a couple of unconfirmed cases in New Jersey.” …

I can’t imagine why Snyderman and Today were reporting unconfirmed cases. That seems to me one of the worst things a journalistic enterprise — and Today is produced by NBC News — should be doing. Wait for confirmation when reporting such data. …

Even though Gupta is primarily known as the lead medical correspondent on CNN, he also works for CBS News, and I saw him Monday night on The CBS News with Katie Couric standing in front of a Mexico City hospital. He had his own mask — down about his throat. Overly dramatic? Maybe.

I hated Gupta describing his location as “sort of ground zero” and reporting what he described as a lack of basic supplies for medical workers at the Mexican hospital as “sort of the chaos here,” but he was the reporter on the ground. I just wish the language he used would have been prudent and less sensational.”

Kudos to the Wall Street Journal, for including some perspective I’ve not seen anyone give quite this way:

“Many people assume a pandemic is a deadly scourge, but two of three flu pandemics that circled the globe in the 20th century were relatively mild. “Pandemics can range from being relatively mild to being extremely severe,” said Keiji Fukuda, the World Health Organization’s acting assistant director for health security and environment. “My own sense right now is it too early to make a call.”

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Mark Houston

April 29, 2009 at 12:48 pm

You know- it is going to sound horrible, but America has bigger problems to worry about besides the swine flu epidemic in Meixco….