Student Voice


June 20, 2024


Media manufacture swine flu anxiety into unnecessary hype

September 24, 2009

It seems that people should ask themselves the question “What else should I be scared of?” every time they turn on their local television news, or even browse through the latest edition of The New York Times.

This last spring was no different with the emergence of the H1N1 virus, more commonly known as the dreaded “swine flu.” 

Major media vehicles wasted no time getting the word about how devastating the relatively unknown flu could be. “Yahoo!” went all out by running a headline “Is Swine Flu the Big One? Experts Have Long Feared an Epidemic that Would Kill Millions.”

Now, there is a fine line between creating awareness and generating unnecessary hype. So the question is, where exactly does the attempt to educate the public about something like the swine flu become too excessive? 

Unknown to many, there are cases of swine flu in the U.S., as well as around the world, each and every year. As of September 18th, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) reports that there have been 4570 hospitalizations from swine flu in 2008-2009, with under 1000 deaths. The CDC also reports that on average, 36,000 people die from seasonal influenza in the U.S. alone each year. 

Seemingly, which of these facts should be more alarming? The average person should be able to understand that anyone who is already in poor health, elderly, etc. should be concerned about something like the swine flu, but why not be equally concerned about the seasonal flu, common cold, or pneumonia?

That’s where this excessive media coverage becomes a catalyst for national anxiety and fear. People do need to be informed and reminded, especially with the upcoming winter months, to take precautions on staying healthy, but they do not need to be told day in and day out to look over their shoulder because they could be next.

Unbeknownst to people, the swine flu is very treatable, and basically as dangerous, if not less so, than the seasonal flu. 

That’s where this concept gets pushed way beyond the fear of the spread of swine flu.  The idea of “if it bleeds, it leads” is often an accusation of news organizations all over the nation. Referring back to the article on “Yahoo!,” why, when at the time, there were only 10-15 cases of the swine flu, would a major media source post an article that is basically meant to cause a widespread panic? 

Hypothetically, one can expect the same response with an article titled “Well, You’re All Probably Going to Die.”

Some people have to wonder if they would just be better off quarantining themselves in their households as to avoid all of the dangerous things in this world.

Why doesn’t the public hear about the advances that are being made in our hospitals around the country to further prevent and treat diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease? Why isn’t the obesity epidemic at the top of Google searches, and Swine Flu is almost at number one? 

The point of all this is not to say that the nation is being thrown into an unnecessary frenzy, but rather to address the clear implications of pessimism and the avoidable build-up of certain stories that circulate in out media. 

Over the past ten years, there have been plenty of “scares,” beyond health issues, that got excessive coverage. Some of these include SARS, the Avian Bird Flu, HPV and other honorable mentions.

It makes sense to build up stories like these from the media’s point of view, because if you just simply inform the public that something “exists,” they aren’t going to turn many heads since it’s not exciting or dangerous.

So in order to get exposure and circulation of a story, they need to make it seem like a major threat. Now, is this to say that if something like the swine flu does become an epidemic that it wouldn’t be devastating? The answer is absolutely not.

The world can be a dangerous place, but to live in fear isn’t really living at all. 

The main idea can be summed up as originality. All too often when forming an opinion, a person will hear about a recent event, and take someone else’s words, and formulate it as their own.

If everyone is saying that the swine flu is a serious threat, and you have no idea what it is, chances are that person will consider it a serious problem.

One of the greatest things about this country is that someone can believe whatever they want, so the best thing to do would be to take advantage of that. Don’t fall victim to the swine flu anxiety.