This morning, the better half has some thoughts the media coverage of the Ebola epidemic. Her point is that everytime people start to ask reasonable questions about Ebola, the media lecture them not to panic. The truth is that nobody's really panicked about the Ebola epidemic (yet), but by preempting any dialogue about our level of readiness with a patronizing insistence that there's no need to worry, the media leave people even more unsettled than they would have been if we'd just had a frank discussion about the risks to begin with. If you want to see what that frank discussion looks like, see my colleague Jonathan Last's excellent piece on Ebola. As for the media's patronizing responses, the boss -- who just joined Twitter! -- makes a good and succinct point in response to MSNBC's Chris Hayes:
Even if the odds are overwhelmingly against contracting Ebola, it's fairly rational to be worried about a horrific plague that has already infected thousands of people. The way to reassure people is to honestly tell them about what's being done to counter the risks of it spreading further. Insisting that you shouldn't worry about it actually makes things worse. It's an apocalyptic version of the "don't think of an elephant" problem. With Ebola already in the news, telling people over and over there's no need to contemplate bleeding from their eyeballs is going to cause them to do just that.
Further, the smug certitude amplifies fears when the media turn out to be wrong. And, at times, they've been pretty darn wrong in their hasty attempt to avert nonexistent Ebola panic:
To some extent, this is just another way that the media are at once disdainful of their readers, and insecure about their self-declared expertise. And they should be insecure, because they are not experts in virology. Or economics, nutrition, religion, or any of the myriad subjects the media regularly get wrong. They can't tell the future, but they act like they can. And they sure can't reliably predict human behavior. When it comes to situations such as the Ebola crisis, there are, as Donald Rumsfeld put it, a lot of "unknown unknowns." Situations like this call for humility and facts first, pronouncements later.