The Right's pandemic paranoia
While the Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control spent the week informing the public with details on the H1N1 virus, the right-wing noise machine spent the week misinforming the public with paranoid theories about the virus. Because the flu virus may have originated in Mexico, the story provided some on the right with an excuse to engage in some good-old fashioned immigrant-bashing and renew their calls for greater border security. The story also provided right-wing media figures with more fuel for their fear-mongering about the Obama administration.
As the story of the H1N1 virus emerged, it was initially referred to as the "swine flu," but the Obama administration called for moving away from that language because it was contributing to baseless fears that the virus had to do with pork consumption. This did not sit well with CNN's Lou Dobbs, who referred to people using the H1N1 terminology as "idiots" and claiming "they are out of their cotton pickin' minds." Such people include several of Dobbs' colleagues at CNN, including the network's chief medical correspondent.
In response to the administration's request for a name change, radio host Neil Boortz suggested calling the virus the "fajita flu." But that was one of Boortz's more tepid comments about the virus. Boortz stirred up fears that the virus was some sort of "bioterrorist" plot, asking, "What better way to sneak a virus into this country than to give it to Mexicans?" Similarly, radio host Michael Savage claimed, "There is certainly the possibility that our dear friends in the Middle East cooked this up in a laboratory somewhere in a cave and brought it to Mexico knowing that our incompetent government would not protect us from this epidemic because of our open-border policies." After all, Savage claimed, the terrorists might have known that Mexicans "are the perfect mules for bringing this virus into America."
It's hard to determine which came first -- the intolerance or the paranoia.
Indeed, they make conservative leader Rush Limbaugh's suggestions of a conspiracy on the part of the Obama administration seem just slightly less delusional. Limbaugh claimed: "All of this is by design. It's designed to get people to respond to government orders. ... It is designed to expand the role and power of government and schools, and the media just falls right in line with it."
Meanwhile, Fox News' Glenn Beck speculated that the administration's response might have been designed to get Kathleen Sebelius rapidly confirmed as Health and Human Services secretary: "She can be confirmed right out of the gate because of this swine flu. So don't look over here, look at the swine flu, look at the swine flu, look at the swine flu. And she just goes right through the gate."
Thankfully, there were a few commentators urging restraint on the flu story. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough noted: "[T]here have been some irresponsible voices out there talking trying to link illegal immigration with this pandemic and that's just not the case at all. That's ignorant." And Fox's Shepard Smith remarked: "[E]verybody's emailing going, 'The illegals are bringing it across the border.' Relax! There's a flu outbreak going on, and you're worried about illegal immigration."
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Swine flu hysteria
This post from MediaMatters.org helps put some of the outrageousness over the swine flu noise into some perspective: