It really gives me heartburn to see an otherwise sensible article in AOLNews by Katie Drummond with a headline: “Hyping H1N1: Did It Create a Dangerous Flu Fatigue?” I don’t know if that was her title or not. Newspapers have headline writers who often seem never to have read the piece they are headlining, but online authors often title their own pieces. In any event, the word in the headline I object to is “Hyping.” It implies deliberate exaggeration for ulterior motives.
Did many respectable news outlets do this? Some did, no doubt. They are businesses and news is the commodity they are selling, whether it’s a pandemic or Tiger Woods’s personal life. We all understand this to some extent. In the northeast, impending blizzards are “hyped” to get you to tune in to the local news (weather and sports being the main attractions these days; the “news” portion is truly pathetic). Everyone who lives in those places knows the Big Blizzard may fizzle, but they run out to the grocery store and empty the shelves of bread, milk and snowmelt salt anyway — just in case. They’re not stupid. And they tune in to the local news to keep track. Just in case. Do we blame the meteorologists at the National Weather Service if the forecast is wrong? Not really.
The problem with using the word “hype” for the flu pandemic is it entices whacko conspiracy theorists to come out of the wordwork and blame the flu forecast on Donald Rumsfeld or the Pentagon or The New World Order in general. Now I despise Rumsfeld as a War Criminal and the Pentagon as a waste of money and enabler of graft and corruption, but I also know influenza pandemics are a natural event, just like the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. Natural events can be made worse by human stupidity or inaction or greed, as we saw with Hurricane Katrina. Not preparing for this flu pandemic would have been gross negligence. As it was, we weren’t really prepared and managed to dodge a bullet because the bullet was low velocity and didn’t do as much damage as it could have. We understand the dynamics of flu so little that it could literally have taken almost any form, from nothing at all to something very bad. Pretty much like a typical nor’easter.
If you want to cite a threat that’s hyped, my candidate would be terrorism. Terrorism certainly exists, but in the US it has killed hardly anyone. Even the catastrophe of 9/11 killed far fewer than the pandemic “non-event” and we are inconvenienced and spend far more on it. And Rumsfeld and his cronies demonstrably did conspire to hype it for their own purposes.