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Fear Mongering in the Age of Ebola and ISIS

by on October 29, 2014

Whenever one turns on a mainstream “news” outlet these days, one is immediately assaulted by a wave of stories that seem to have no function but to inspire panic. Among the more blatant of these instances concerns the Ebola virus that is currently devastating West Africa. More and more news sources are reporting on the virus’s landfall in the United States (nicely parodied here by Jon Stuart) and are making the disease out to be some sort of apocalyptic superbug that spells the end of humanity. These is not an isolated case either. News outlets across the country are churning out tons of stories on panic inducing topics like ISIS attacks and evil government spy towers.

It seems that given these headlines, major news media in this country is trying to capitalize on people’s fears. Such an approach brings into question the ethics of all those involved. Sadly, it seems as if many news sources these days value money over hard truth (such as the fact that Ebola is relatively non-infectious), and the news is suffering for it as countless more organizations jump on the bandwagon in order to increase ratings and traffic.

So how should we, as ethical journalists, approach such issues? It is important to remember journalism’s key mantras: tell the truth and do no harm. These major news organizations are violating both of those rules: they stretch and exaggerate truths in order to male their stories more impactful and engaging, and they do real harm by creating panic and sowing pieces of poor information. In an era where there are countless greedy and morally skewed souls looking to make a quick buck off of people’s fears, the need for well delivered and carefully researched truth is paramount. As ethical and responsible journalists, we must devote ourselves to ensuring the truth is always what the public gets.

Then they can decide for themselves whether or not to panic.

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