Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Abducted by the Media

That's a headline from this commentary by the staff of the Christian Science Monitor, which uses reporting of recent West Nile Virus events as an example of journalistic excess:

A routine hyping of events by journalists can create fears beyond their measure, especially in reporting a new (to the US) disease.

This year, the number of deaths from West Nile virus, by national standards, has been minuscule (54), but one would think from media reports that Americans are suffering the plague. What's missing is perspective, and balance that lets readers and viewers decide for themselves the level of danger. Too easily, the press can prompt irrational fears, and possibly panic, especially when events are transmitted in nanoseconds.

Exaggerating a danger is as irresponsible to the cause of honest journalism as ignoring a danger. And claiming there's a trend when one barely exists or doesn't exist at all is to peddle false information.

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