05/09/2005 06:36 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The sky is falling

If Spielberg and Cruise are in search of new inspiration when they wrap-up War of the Worlds, they need look no further than this past Sunday’s Houston Chronicle. Health reporter Leigh Hopper and the Chronicle’s headline writer gave us a full day’s recommended dose of terror in a mere three-sentences-plus-headline. An avian flu “catastrophe may loom”, “just a mutation away”, “launching a human pandemic”, a “disaster”, “more deadly than anthrax”, with “catastrophic potential”, because “’Mother Nature is the mother of all terrorists’”.

Likewise, CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding, in a speech earlier this year, called avian flu “a very ominous situation for the globe”, the "most important threat that we are facing.” But a day later, when Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH told CNN that the potential for pandemic is actually low, Dr. Gerberding pulled back, telling CNN, “"I think we're in a situation right now where it would not be an imminent problem to see avian flu emerge, …but we want to be prepared just in case.”

So, what gives? Yes, there’s a danger. It needs to be addressed by stockpiling drugs and vaccine. It needs our serious attention—but overblown rhetoric doesn’t work anymore, and it hurts the credibility of journalists and policy makers alike.