One day after a highly self-aggrandizing CNN clip accused Fox News of trafficking in unscientific hysteria over the rash of hemorrhagic fever cases in the United States and Africa, the Most Trusted Name In News terrified its several viewers by calling Ebola the “ISIS of biological agents.”
The epithet originated in a New York Times contribution from Alexander Garza, former chief medical officer of the Department of Homeland Security, who wrote that the virus “is no ordinary communicable disease. It is the ISIS of biological agents. The response should mirror antiterrorism efforts.”
Nevertheless, Garza merely advocated enhanced health screenings of international arrivals, scrutiny of flight manifests to determine which travelers have visited West African countries impacted by Ebola and related viruses, and more spending on medical personnel. He wrote that a set of pertinent questions would have led to the quarantine of the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States, “assuming that the patient in Dallas would have answered this question truthfully.”
The news network ran with Garza’s hyperbolic phrase just a day after scoring a viral video in which one of its hosts and a former anchorman decried “irresponsible” reporting on Ebola. CNN singled out Fox News’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Andrea Tantaros for saying, among other things, that Ebola exists in the United States.
“It’s technically true, there is Ebola here in America,” Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter conceded. “But to say ‘Ebola is here’ — doesn’t that sort of inflame people’s fears?”
Former CNN reporter Miles O’Brien agreed, condemning reporters who “should know better” and are “embarrassing our brethren in journalism” by “hyping up this threat.” O’Brien, who now works as a science correspondent for taxpayer-funded PBS, also bemoaned the “very competitive business” of trying to report news that people are interested in. Stelter and O’Brien went on to blow several metric tons of smoke about CNN’s own coverage, which they took great pains to posit as the Gallant to Fox’s Goofus.
“It reflects a level of ignorance that we should not allow in our media or in our discourse,” O’Brien advised of the network that routinely beats CNN in ratings. The Stelter–O’Brien clip received wide distribution Sunday. (Warning: Viewing it may cause you to loathe friends and family who happily retweeted and reposted the network’s valentine to itself.)
Warming to the Islamic State–Ebola threat Monday, Banfield brought in NYU medical professor Amar Safdar to address the possibility that the Islamic State might send suicide carriers of the disease onto “mass transit.” Safdar shot down this suggestion by explaining that Ebola’s avenues of transmission are not ideal for bioterror efforts.
Throughout the professor’s explanation, the network kept up the lower third tag “EBOLA: THE ISIS OF BIOLOGICAL AGENTS?” — thus demonstrating another old rule of journalism: When the headline ends in a question mark, the answer is “No.”