2001-10-25 - 4:22 p.m.
A rant about media reporting of anthrax cases
Okay, I'm going to jump up onto a high horse here for a minute and rant about the news media.
I have a couple of words that spring to mind whenever I see a report on Anthrax these days.
Why do I react this way?
Well, first off, if you do some digging into the web-sites of these self-same news bureaus, you'll find that the tests to determine if someone has been exposed to anthrax have two phases. The first just determines that there are bacillus-shaped bacteria present. These may or may not be anthrax. The first test is (read this carefully) not completely conclusive. The second test, which takes at least 24-48 hours is a culture and is much more conclusive.
Now I don't know if you've been watching this as closely as I have, but there have been several reports of people being exposed to anthrax which were later retracted. (Not that they did it in a "we were wrong and we're real sorry" kind of retraction).
Here's what I think is happening. Someone tests positive on the first (non-conclusive) test. The press trumpets the information out on all channels as "This guy, his brother, and his cousin's dog all have been exposed to anthrax. You're going to die tomorrow." Then a day or two later, they calmly squeeze in "This guy was not exposed to anthrax. But in other news, all of Kansas is infected."
Now I'll say that I don't know for *sure* that this is what is happening, but I strongly suspect that this is what is causing all these confusing reports.
If I'm right, they really, really need to get a handle on this information and how they present it. People have a tendency to panic, and today's sound-bite obsessed media is only contributing to that.
I mean ferchrissake yesterday afternoon I saw a report on CNN that said "Anthrax vaccine prompts the body to create antibodies which neutralize the toxin (created by anthrax bacteria)." This is patently false. The antibodies kill the bacteria (hopefully before it releases enough toxin to be dangerous). It does *not* neutralize the toxin. To my knowledge, there is no effective treatment for neutralizing the toxin.
I know that your average news person does not have a degree in Biology, and can't be expected to know all these things. My point is really that they should 1) check these stories out with someone who *knows* before the broadcast rumor and innuendo and 2) stop inciting panic in the public.
Newscasters take heed, Wolf Blitzer especially. Find out *exactly* what is going on. Then say *exactly* what is going on.
It's not only a simple concept. It's your fucking job.
Maybe you should start doing it.