THE BLOG
10/22/2014 10:08 am ET Updated Dec 22, 2014

Former NYT Editor Calls Media Fear-Mongering on Ebola 'Disgraceful'

Since I've used that word repeatedly in recent weeks to describe the same syndrome, I was pleased to see former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson embrace "disgraceful" as the way to describe media hyping of the Ebola non-crisis in the U.S.

It happened this week in a Q & A with current Times media writer David Carr in Boston.

Abramson: It's been, I think, disgraceful in many respects. I have to roll my eyes when, like today, I'm reading all these stories about "the panic." Well, who helped cause the panic? I mean, please!
Carr: When you say that, are you saying there is an overreaction, or there should be an overreaction?
JA: No, there is an overreaction.
DC: But people are scared.
JA: People are scared in part because of the ceaseless, ominous cable and other coverage, which stokes their fears. Two people are sick and one person has died. That's what's happened -- in the United States. Obviously I'm not talking about coverage of the disease in West Africa. ....I'm talking about the coverage about, IT'S COMING HERE!

The media will now hastily back away from coverage while hoping everyone forgets the "disgraceful" performance of past month. This reminds me of what happened after the even more disgraceful coverage in the run-up to our Iraq invasion in 2003, which I covered in my So Wrong for So Long book. I have yet to see any real self-criticism from the major news outlets so far.

Just this past Monday, the Times, after fanning outsized Ebola fears all month, published a front-page piece bemoaning the panic caused by such a focus from nearly all of what we used to to call the MSM. This happened to coincide with the embarrassing, if happy, fact that the 21-day quarantine period had passed in Texas and not a single new Ebola case had turned up. Yes, the Times has included in many of its stories level-headed information that might reduce panic -- but then fan the flames by carrying one scare story after another, usually at or near the top of its site or front page.

From that piece in the Times:

In the month since a Liberian man infected with Ebola traveled to Dallas, where he later died, the nation has marinated in a murky soup of understandable concern, wild misinformation, political opportunism and garden-variety panic.

Within the escalating debate over how to manage potential threats to public health -- muddled by what is widely viewed as a bungled effort by government officials and the Dallas hospital that managed the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States -- the line between vigilance and hysteria can be as blurry as the edges of a watercolor painting.

A crowd of parents last week pulled their children out of a Mississippi middle school after learning that its principal had traveled to Zambia, an African nation untouched by the disease....

Also last week, a teacher at an elementary school in Strong, Me., was placed on a 21-day paid leave when parents told the school board that they were worried he had been exposed to Ebola during a trip to Dallas for an educational conference.

Now where would they get that idea?

The same week exactly one died in a U.S. hospital with Ebola up to 2,000 (statistic show) died in U.S. hospitals at least partly due to run of the mill infections they were exposed to there. Maybe we need a Hospital Infection Czar.