Con­tain­ing the facts about Ebola

The White House prefers to re­as­sure rather than tell about all the risks

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Tammy Bruce

As the Ebola cri­sis un­folds here in the United States, it’s be­com­ing painfully ob­vi­ous why the Amer­i­can peo­ple can’t trust their own gov­ern­ment. Mind you, any fed­eral gov­ern­ment isn’t ex­actly an en­tity any­one should trust com­pletely, yet Americans un­der­stand that while pol­i­tics will al­ways un­leash cer­tain shenani­gans, in gen­eral there had been a sense that peo­ple in Wash­ing­ton and our var­i­ous agen­cies at least had our best in­ter­ests in mind.

Un­for­tu­nately, that sen­ti­ment has be­come, well, sen­ti­men­tal.

On Sept. 16, Pres­i­dent Obama had a news con­fer­ence about Ebola at the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol (CDC) in At­lanta. After the pres­i­dent noted, “We have to act fast. We can’t daw­dle on this one” (So, he’s daw­dled on some other crises in­volv­ing life and death?), he de­clared the Ebola sit­u­a­tion in West Africa was “spi­ral­ing out of con­trol” and then as­sured us the chances of Ebola com­ing to Amer­ica was “ex­tremely low.”

Well, ap­par­ently not so ex­tremely low. On Sept. 20, Liberian Ebola car­rier Thomas Eric Dun­can ar­rived in the United States, just four days after the pres­i­dent’s com­ments that it would likely not hap­pen.

Be­ing hon­est with the Amer­i­can peo­ple in­cludes ad­mit­ting when there may be a prob­lem in the fu­ture that is un­avoid­able. Mr. Obama’s re­fusal to sus­pend flights into the United States from Ebola-in­fected coun­tries also made it likely the virus would ar­rive here.

De­liv­er­ing plat­i­tudes and pa­tron­iz­ing re­as­sur­ances about life-and-death is­sues re­veals a sys­temic cul­ture that prefers to treat the av­er­age cit­i­zen as an in­fant, and cer­tainly not worth treat­ing as an equal.

Like so many other events dur­ing his pres­i­dency, in grasp­ing Mr. Obama’s ap­proach with Ebola, we have two op­tions: Ei­ther he and his team de­lib­er­ately chose to mis­lead the Amer­i­can pub­lic about a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion, or he is ac­tu­ally clue­less. Ei­ther op­tion tells the Amer­i­can peo­ple that en­deav­or­ing to be­lieve what we’re told by those in charge of this na­tion is a fool’s er­rand.

The mo­ment it was re­vealed the United States had its first di­ag­nosed Ebola case, the main mes­sage from var­i­ous of­fi­cials cen­tered on the in­sis­tence that we are not to panic or be­come hys­ter­i­cal. In­for­ma­tion was limited to re­peat­ing the nar­ra­tive that Ebola could only be trans­mit­ted if you were in di­rect con­tact with blood or other bod­ily flu­ids with some­one, ac­cord­ing to the CDC guide­lines, “who is very sick.” This meme was re­peated over and over again by of­fi­cials at the CDC and many in the main­stream me­dia. Un­til it be­gan to un­ravel.

The CDC’s Ebola happy talk, usu­ally de­liv­ered by Di­rec­tor Tom Frieden, was fi­nally ex­posed on CNN. Dr. Frieden was speak­ing with CNN’s San­jay Gupta, also a physi­cian, once again to re­as­sure ev­ery­one that ev­ery­thing was A-OK. A news an­chor asked the doc­tor to re­as­sure view­ers that Ebola wasn’t “highly con­ta­gious” so as to help the Amer­i­can peo­ple “back away from the panic.”

Dr. Frieden hap­pily com­plied, “It’s not like the flu, not like the common cold, it re­quires di­rect phys­i­cal con­tact.” Then the an­chor chimes in and says, “If he sneezes on you, it’s a dif­fer­ent story.” With that one state­ment, Dr. Frieden was com­pelled to ad­mit ex­ist­ing CDC guide­lines do warn sim­ply stand­ing within a three-foot ra­dius of some­one with Ebola poses a risk of in­fec­tion.

If th­ese re­porters had not forced the dis­cus­sion, Dr. Frieden would have stuck with his mis­lead­ing de­scrip­tion of the how the virus is com­mu­ni­cated.

Now we can put “You must be in di­rect per­sonal con­tact with bod­ily flu­ids” in the same file as “You can keep your in­surance, doc­tor and hos­pi­tal” and “It was a YouTube video.”

View­ers were not only see­ing a fed­eral of­fi­cial ex­posed on live TV as not be­ing com­pletely hon­est, but they also saw what’s pos­si­ble when re­porters ac­tu­ally do their job. For the past six years, the news me­dia have been in­cu­ri­ous about whether or not what the fed­eral of­fi­cials say is true, or even if they’re get­ting the whole story. This is likely not so much a lack of in­ter­est by re­porters, but a re­flec­tion of their own fears over what the truth is about their var­i­ous lib­eral he­roes.

There is a nat­u­ral re­vul­sion to be­ing in­sulted by “of­fi­cials” who use the smear that we’ll panic as an ex­cuse to not tell us the truth. Americans have been through a great deal since the Found­ing it­self. Whether it be world wars, de­bil­i­tat­ing viruses, AIDS, Sept. 11 or ter­ror­ism, Americans come to­gether, face re­al­ity and de­feat the en­emy.

Politi­cians do, how­ever, have another rea­son to keep in­for­ma­tion from us: Each fail­ure of the sys­tem ex­poses their in­com­pe­tence. The many scan­dals of the Obama pres­i­dency all could do with a healthy dose of light brought by cu­ri­ous re­porters who are still in­ter­ested in in­ves­ti­gat­ing and find­ing the truth, re­gard­less of which politi­cians it ex­poses. Tammy Bruce is a ra­dio talk-show host, au­thor and Fox News contributor.

Be­ing hon­est with the Amer­i­can peo­ple in­cludes ad­mit­ting when there may be a prob­lem in the fu­ture that is un­avoid­able. Mr. Obama’s re­fusal to sus­pend flights into the United States

from Ebola-in­fected coun­tries also made it likely the virus would ar­rive here.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY WIL­LIAM BROWN/TRI­BUNE CON­TENT AGENCY

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