06/11/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Hype Flu's Big Fade

Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama said the so-called swine flu was "cause for concern, not cause for alarm." Despite the media hysteria, it's faded from view already.

Remember that big, dangerous swine flu threat that the cable culture was going on about round the clock, still scaring the sweat out of people a week ago? Why, it's going to ... er, never mind.

It was all very breathless and alarming.

When the media discovered that an advance man for Energy Secretary Steven Chu had come down with the flu after President Obama's trip to Mexico City last month, it was a mini-scandal. Lost in the shuffle? The fact that the guy got over it in a day and was back at work.

CNN reports that the flu is in the United States.

When I get the flu, I can be knocked out for a week.

And that's all this was, a flu. A somewhat different strain, cause for concern, mind you, but not alarm.

Yet our goofy American media culture acted as though this thing was akin to the killer flu in Stephen King's The Stand.

One big clue that it wasn't? There weren't dead people. There were dead people in Mexico, but far fewer than estimated at first.

Actually, this flu was much less dangerous than the regular flu we deal with all the time. And that flu killed 36,000 Americans last year.

This flu didn't cause physical mayhem, it caused media mayhem, with the cable culture locking on to it around the clock.

The Obama Administration probably understood this, since one of their people had already experienced the supposedly dangerous flu, and that turned out better than had he gotten the regular flu.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a press conference to announce that a couple of dozen high school kids had the flu.

But even though Team O not so subtly holds the current media culture -- in all its hyperventilating, twitchily tweeting, ADD glory -- in minimum low regard, it's not best for politicians to act as media critics. So Obama and company performed the time-honored ritual of political executives in the midst of crisis, real or imaginary: Roll out regular statements about how the government is on top of things and protecting the public and giving common sense advice.

Only the usually very valuable Joe Biden, whose vocal chords clearly relish adventures all their own, got into the swim of the media hysteria. "Stay out of enclosed spaces!" You mean, like your house, Mr. Vice President?

Naturally, some folks jumped on the hype flu bandwagon to make political points.

A few on the left said it showed that corporations are destroying the world. And that many were already dying around the world because of the evils of factory farming. Well, actually, no.

Reports out of Mexico, mainly erroneous, led to calls to shut down the border.

On the far right, the hype flu festival was especially indulged in. Except it wasn't the hype flu, or even the swine flu. It was Mexican flu.

These folks like to blame Mexicans for, well, not exactly everything. But a lot. Budget crises, economic problems, crime, drugs, not speaking English the way God intended it in America. But why did God put the Indians here first if English should be the only language of the land? An inconvenient question, like those about the consumers of those drugs, or the fact that immigrants (who come here to work) have lower crime rates than natives, or the fact that illegal immigrants on balance boost the economy and are hardly the cause of budget crises.

With their evil flu, Mexicans had found yet another way to destroy America.

Except for, you know, the flu is a big fat fizzle.

For now.

Wouldn't it be ironic if the hype flu did turn out, over time, to be a real problem instead of the usual faux crisis that our media culture increasingly traffics in?

The Fort Worth, Texas school district announced at the end of April it would close all the schools.

And that the "cry wolf" syndrome came into play.

After all, a flu mutates. The hype flu, swine flu, H1N1 strain as the scientists took to calling it after panicked people started slaughtering pigs, could return in a new and genuinely dangerous form late next fall when the regular flu season starts up again.

It isn't likely, as the human body has evolved over many millennia to resist all manner of things.

But the fact that it is possible, and that this spring's media hype led to nothing, could lead to something genuinely dangerous going under-appreciated.

That would be a tragedy. And it would be entirely a function of a dysfunctional media culture that all too frequently confuses sensation with information, preferring immediacy to common sense.

It's too bad, really, because fast and smart can definitely go hand in hand. But absent the smart, it's just hype.