Ebola and Dallas

Ebola has struck in the heart of Texas and her citizens are panicking. While the media scolds the good citizens of Dallas for overreacting, the same outlets are pouring journalists and resources into covering the story. Potential doomsday scenario crossed with reality TV sounds like a great combination to entice viewers.

This little contradiction, driven by the economics of the news cycle, is actually beside the point. While a focus on Dallas is newsworthy, the attention is a bit off center. That a nurse following isolation protocols contracted the virus is tragic but the emphasis should be more than one woman’s heroism turned possible death warrant. The tightest focus should be on the fact that this woman, following Centers for Disease Control (CDC) protocols and supervision, who acted with conscientious and exacting procedures, still contracted Ebola.

Liberia and Sierra Leona do not have CDC protocols and supervision nor do these countries have the ability to implement best practice procedures. Hospitals are a collection of huts with fences around and through the property .They do not even have enough isolation suits or gloves to go around. Hospitals are inconsequential because people are lying in the streets bleeding and spewing out contaminated body fluids. Clothing, sheets, and rags are all contaminated. Burying victims of Ebola is a dangerous business too, another terrible vector of infection.

This outbreak of Ebola is more devastating because previous outbreaks have been in rural, somewhat isolated areas of Western Africa. This time the virus is hurtling through urban populations. In the previous outbreaks, health care workers had to wait for the wave of infection to dissipate on its own, to burn itself out. With large burgeoning populations of crowded poor neighborhoods, the wave may not crest in the near future. Quite the opposite, the rate of infection is doubling each month according to estimates.

If the CDC cannot control accidental infection in the United States, what hope does Western Africa have? I fear that this pandemic is only beginning. The resources being brought to bear are not the best quality and quantities of supplies are not available. Families, neighborhoods and villages are being ravaged. The countries are poor and economically teetering; the entire national cabinet of Liberia fled the country and had to be dissolved. This is the worst of circumstances for containing this plague.

Let us pray.

Angry Black Woman

Shonda Rhimes, an actress and producer of good repute, responded heatedly to an article by a television critic to the New York Times. The article intimated that Ms. Rhimes has cemented her position in the entertainment world by playing “The Angry Black Woman”. Ms. Rhimes responded appropriately.

Contrary to the Supreme Court decision that gutted a major tenet of the landmark Voter Rights Act of the 1960’s, racism is alive and well, dwelling with mundane comfort throughout our nation. As a nation we have learned not to use the “N” word and to be conscious of using “hyphen” words when more dated, loaded terms are no longer tolerable. We no longer sound racist, biased, or bigoted in public and when someone does use these dated terms, we know what to conclude.

All of these changes in public vocabulary are shallow and trivial. A casual racist will not be swayed by a change in labels; the casual racists of the past decades have not been convinced to turn towards enlightenment. They did learn to promulgate their convictions with subtlety, calm, and legal maneuvers worthy of a master script writer.

However, human beings cannot easily hide their deep convictions, their hatreds and their loves. Last week the stereotype emerged as “The Angry Black Woman” and this week or next, another, probably polite example will pop up. This is not cynicism; this is an argument that the battle to overcome xenophobia is an ongoing dynamic and that there is no one final battle in the public square that will finally defeat stereotyping, neither from the subtle to the extreme.

The point is to get out in the public square and call out racism and bigotry for what it is. We should thank Shonda Rhimes, not for defending herself, but for reminding us that we are all responsible.

“Fit” to print

The United States has a long history of compromised journalism. Yellow journalism in the 1890’s trumpeted pseudo-science, underdog plots, specific politicians, and political parties with outrageous and misleading headlines, unnamed sources, and damning innuendos.All of it was a competition between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst for readership of their respective newspapers.

The famous “muckraking” at the beginning of the 1900’s was an unscrupulous and unsavory methodology for obtaining damning information on politicians and celebrities. Even President Teddy Roosevelt got swept up in the mess in 1906. The impetus behind the muckraking was the corporate interest in the new mass-market magazines, which were lucrative as long as the stories were salacious.

Standing in 2014, the business model is a bit more complicated but the corporate interest in newspapers and magazines remains steady. These are “for-profit” enterprises and the most important desks at these businesses are the advertising desks. No one is surprised when magazines such as Sports Illustrated and Time, which are owned by conglomerates, are accused of killing articles that put their advertisers in a poor a light. The further accusation is that the reporters are told to write stories that highlight their advertising customers with a positive spin. Those who do not comply are terminated. There is enough compelling evidence from a number of unique sources to make one pause.

Accusations of bias have been leveled at New York Times over the Hamas-Israel conflict, which is still ongoing. The tone this time is more than journalistic favoritism of Palestinians. The same accusations have been leveled at the AP and their large bureau in Israel. In this case a former reporter from the bureau details pictures suppressed and articles killed that were disproportionately negative against Gaza and the West Bank. Many media observers see the pattern of the glossy magazines being emulated in the news sheets.

Everything fit to print may not be fit for consumption.

I will leave you this little fact. The AP has not filled its stringer position in Congo. Stringers live in African countries among the inhabitants for $300 a month. The named reporters for the AP live in hotels across the continent at nearly $300 a day and they cover six to ten countries from one city. The AP pays for the big stories but not for the daily investigative journalism that matters more in the long run. It’s a business and therein lies the inherent problem of news consumption in the United States. It’s a business.