"The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia is over," announced the World Health Organization on May 9, declaring a cautious end to the deadly wave that claimed 4,700 Liberian lives since last summer. That outbreak, of course, eventually sparked panic in the United States last September and October when a handful of Ebola cases were confirmed domestically. Ebola mania raged in the media for weeks and became one of the biggest news stories of 2014.
So how did the American media cover the latest, good-news Ebola story in the days following the WHO announcement? Very, very quietly.
By my count, ABC News devoted just brief mentions of the story on Good Morning America and its Sunday talk show, This Week. On NBC, only the Today show noted the development, while CBS This Morning and the CBS Evening News set aside brief mentions. None of the network newscasts have given this Ebola story full segments, according to a transcript search via Nexis.
A scattering of mentions on cable news and a handful of stories including in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, among others, rounded out the remaining coverage in the past week.*
Pretty amazing, considering that late last year the U.S. news media were in the grips of self-induced Ebola hysteria. During one peak week, cable news channels mentioned "Ebola" over 4,000 times, while the Washington Post homepage one night featured at least 15 Ebola-related articles and columns, many of which focused on both the international crisis and the political dynamic, and the problems Ebola was supposedly causing President Obama.
That's not to say the tragic outbreak was not a big story worthy of any news coverage. It was, but American media went into overdrive hyping concerns that a deadly domestic outbreak was imminent -- only to rapidly forget.
The recent look-away coverage from Ebola shouldn't come as a surprise. The American media lost complete interest in the story right after Republicans lost interest in the story, which is to say right after last November's midterm elections, when they brandished Ebola as a partisan weapon.
That's no exaggeration. From Media Matters' research:
Right-wing and even mainstream media have eagerly pushed the suggestion that the recent increase in unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border is "Obama's Katrina" -- an inane comparison that repeatedly surfaces inside the conservative media echo chamber.
From the June 29 edition of MSNBC Live:
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File this one under half-baked political analysis.
USA Today's Susan Page rattles off a number of reasons she thinks Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL) is a "weak" U.S. Senate candidate in Florida including the fact that he's... an African-American.
From the April 19, 2010 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
He's an African-American. We know it's hard -- although not impossible -- for African-Americans to win statewide.
Nope, it's not impossible. In fact, it happened in the most recent Florida statewide election when Barack Obama carried the state in the presidential contest.
Incidently, according to a Miami Herald article from earlier this month, Meek is "the first U.S. Senate candidate in state history to qualify for the ballot by petition" submitting a few thousand more than the required 112,476 valid signatures. A sign of weakness to be sure.
We know it's hard -- although not impossible -- for reporters to offer thoughtful political analysis on cable television.
Media figures and outlets have characterized Sen. Kent Conrad's cooperative health insurance proposal as a "compromise," "hybrid," or bipartisan "alternative" to a public insurance option without noting the argument by progressive economists that a public option is necessary for health care reform to be successful.
A USA Today/Gallup poll question about who was to blame for the AIG bonuses left out the Bush administration as a suggested response, despite the administration's decision to give AIG billions in aid without requiring that the company withhold the bonuses.
On Hardball, USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page asserted of John McCain's admittedly false claim that "[i]t's common knowledge and has been reported in the media that Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and is receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran": "I think it's a verbal error. And, you know, most Americans can't tell you the difference between Sunnis and Shiites, either."
In a USA Today article reporting on Sen. John McCain's "critique" of Sen. Barack Obama, Susan Page wrote that McCain was "ridiculing comments Obama has made" and quoted without challenge McCain's false assertion that Obama "once suggested bombing our ally, Pakistan." In fact, in an August 2007 speech, Obama stated: "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf won't act, we will."
Repeating the myth that social conservatives are the only political constituency that votes its "values," the January 24 USA Today twice referred to voters most inclined to support Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee as "values voters." A front-page graphic claimed "Huckabee: Has drawn evangelicals and 'values voters,' " while an accompanying article noted that "Huckabee's strength is among just those kind of 'values voters' " who are "uncomfortable" with Rudy Giuliani.