From March 2 to March 8, the fifth biggest story on cable news was a couple of missing football players. From February 23 to March 1, the fifth-biggest story was a chimp attack. (MSNBC, at least, played 9-1-1 recordings of the monkey's owner pleading with police to shoot her pet before it killed her friend. If anyone wants to explain the news value in this, I'd love to hear it.) The week before that, the third-biggest story was about a third baseman's exercise regimen, and the fifth-biggest was the chimp attack. The week before that, a missing child cracked the top five.
We haven't even gotten to the summer months, when cable news traditionally delights in obsessive coverage of statistically-insignificant shark attacks (or, for a change of pace: stingrays!) And, of course, there's always footage of a car chase or a guy stuck in a tree to keep the audience entertained - oops, I mean "informed."
It isn't exactly breaking news that the media, particularly cable news, obsess over tragic or bizarre, but statistically insignificant, topics that do next to nothing to educate the public. But this morning's Washington Post brings a reminder that there are countless more important things cable could do a better job of covering more regularly. Like the fact that at least three percent of residents of the nation's capital have HIV or AIDS, with transmission on the rise:
At least 3 percent of District residents have HIV or AIDS, a total that far surpasses the 1 percent threshold that constitutes a "generalized and severe" epidemic, according to a report scheduled to be released by health officials tomorrow.
"Our rates are higher than West Africa," said Shannon L. Hader, director of the District's HIV/AIDS Administration, who once led the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's work in Zimbabwe. "They're on par with Uganda and some parts of Kenya."
"We have every mode of transmission" -- men having sex with men, heterosexual and injected drug use -- "going up, all on the rise, and we have to deal with them," Hader said.
So urgent is the concern that the HIV/AIDS Administration took the relatively rare step of couching the city's infections in a percentage, harkening to 1992, when San Francisco, around the height of its epidemic, announced that 4 percent of its population was HIV positive. But the report also cautions that "we know that the true number of residents currently infected and living with HIV is certainly higher."
The District's report found a 22 percent increase in HIV and AIDS cases from the 12,428 reported at the end of 2006, touching every race and sex across population and neighborhoods, with an epidemic level in all but one of the eight wards.