When Swine Flu Flies

Now that everyone is thoroughly alarmed and confused about the Swine Flu, journalists who want to be seen as responsible, like Wendy Mesley of the CBC, are asking if they had anything to do with this situation.

So she invited two ‘experts’ and asked them. Naturally, they disagreed. One said that the media failed miserably to put the story into some larger perspective so people could actually make meaningful comparisons to the seasonal flu, it’s annual death toll etc. etc; the other felt that it was just very difficult and complicated and well, they did the best they could.

Then Wendy talked to Joanna Rumeilotis, the journalist who ‘handled’ the story on the 13year old hockey player who died. Joanna was very proud of the fact that it was that story that sent shock waves around kitchen tables in Canada and caused alarmed parents to stand in line with infants and toddlers for hours while the supply of vaccine dwindled.

That she failed utterly to put this tragic event into a larger perspective didn’t matter to her. Wendy ended the show by allowing that both experts could not agree. Duh.

It raises a profound question: what are journalists supposed to be doing in times of crisis?

I think we don’t need them if they simply tear at our heartstrings, confuse us and fail to answer the most basic of questions: for example, how commonly do children die of the swine flu? Or other types of flu? Should we all be worried sick or is this simply an aberration? Would a vaccine shot actually have prevented this tragedy?

None of those questions were asked.

Meanwhile, if you want to read a short, informed and truthful look that does what the CBC failed to do, pick up the November copy of Common Ground and go to page 9 and read What you should know about H1N1, by the Victoria based medical researcher, Alan Cassels. He asks nine pertinent questions and gives clear, informed answers. The story is now also available at http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2009/11/02/f-viewpoint-cassels.html as a special to the CBC.

Here is an example of his style: Is this pandemic worth worrying about?

Answer: Probably not. If we can learn from the southern hemisphere, which just had its flu season, mortality from the pandemic appeared to be relatively low and most countries had flue-related mortality rates of less than one person per 100,000. That’s tiny.

Now would it have killed Wendy to talk about this little known fact instead of pitting two tired public health officials against each other, thus enlightening no one and further undermining our ability to trust the information coming out of the mouths of so called ‘experts’.

It’s really simple, Wendy: do your job, and I will consider  coming back to the “New CBC”, which is really the same old tired format of pictures that bleed and very little perspective and research that is available freely. I already get that on CNN and BCTV.

Shame on you; you are the Canadian public broadcaster and we expect better than this self important whining about gee, did we do a good job. If you’re not sure, you clearly aren’t.

2 thoughts on “When Swine Flu Flies

  1. Great blog Monika! I have had the same thoughts lately. Let’s face it if there’s nothing to worry about then there is no story. So let’s all worry. I am so worried I got vaccinated 2x on each arm. Now I am really sore and “prepared.”

    Young people who burn the candle at both ends most by definition) should probably get vaccinated. Young mothers who are always getting pregnant should be educated about birth control (joking….)

    But I’ll be skipping the “new” CBC News (world or whatever it’s called now) for a long time.

  2. Approximately 3,800 Canadians die of the flu every year. The death toll for swine flu (an artificially manufactured combination of bird flue, swine flu and human flu) is far, far less. The financial toll is half a billion dollars so far, not to mention emergency wards that are packed with near hysterical parents, and a medical system stressed to the breaking point.
    Upon reflection, you may be sure that political power will be accrued by the already too powerful. They will neglect to mention that of the reported swine flu cases, only the tiniest percentage of people actually had this mildest of flues. The CDC in the US has refused to release the actual numbers, but the individual states are less reluctant. Alaska had 1%, Florida 17%, with most states hovering around the 2% mark.
    This whole thing actually follows a well worn sales technique called “Scare the hell out of them, then sell ’em salvation.”
    A little more digging reveals how dangerous vaccines actually are. But people have to do their homework. We must become our own journalists, I think.
    Good stuff, Mon.

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