Are You Afraid of the News?

     With Halloween a week away, the media must count on everyone loving a good scare.


     Morning and evening, day after day, journalists frighten viewers with exaggeration, hyperbole and lack of context on business and economic issues. Just listen to them:

     With Halloween a week away, the media must count on everyone loving a good scare.


     Morning and evening, day after day, journalists frighten viewers with exaggeration, hyperbole and lack of context on business and economic issues. Just listen to them:


     On October 23, CNN’s Tom Foreman warned of a potential “century of fires just like we are seeing now” in Southern California because of global warming.


     Alexis Christoforous called it a “scary Friday” on October 20, after the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped just 366 points the day before. “Call it an eerie coincidence, the Dow marked the 20th anniversary of Black Monday with a steep sell-off,” Christoforous continued on the CBS “Early Show.” “Steep” was a mere 2.6 percent, in contrast with Black Monday’s 22-percent drop in 1987.


     “Scary.” Katie Couric used the word to describe bacterial resistance to antibiotics on October 18 “Evening News.” ABC’s “Nightline” tease on October 17 was equally frightening: “When drugs don’t work, how can we contain the superbugs?”


      Onscreen graphics like “Economy in Crisis” used by “Good Morning America” on October 17 and specials like CNN’s “Planet in Peril” spread fear and incite emotional responses instead of objectively delivering information.


     The constant warnings have been coming for awhile. Time magazine shouted “Be Worried, Be Very Worried” on the cover of its April 3, 2006, issue that devoted 24 full pages to advocacy about global warming, blaming the United States and the Bush administration for destroying the world.

Scariest Costume: the Cable Knit Sweater


     “Housing collapse.” “Freefall.” “Recession.”


     The media have used been using those bone-chilling words lately to describe the economy, potentially frightening consumers from spending.


     Bianna Golodryga admitted on October 17 that the “headlines are scary.” You bet they are. Certainly, her report that day on “Good Morning America” was frightening.


     “The news is, in fact, grim. Housing prices down and foreclosures up. Oil prices now at sky-high levels. It has some economists even talking about a potential recession,” said Golodryga.


     She gave viewers something to fear, all right – sweater purchases. The ABC correspondent said that “When sweater sales go up, watch out,” because it is a “red flag” signaling an economy in trouble.

     CNN’s senior business correspondent Ali Velshi conceded during “American Morning” on October 18 that the way the media talk about “recession” can impact consumers.


     “[A]nd talking about it [a recession (can trigger a recession)],” Velshi said. “So, don’t listen to me – go spend whatever you were going to spend regardless of what I just said.”


     But talk about it they did. Journalists worried about another “Black Monday” the week of its 20th anniversary, uttered the word “recession” more than 100 times since August 2003 – despite many positive economic realities including 49 straight months of job growth – and even used declining home prices to draw bleak comparisons to the Great Depression in 2006.

Like That Old Song, It’s the End of the World … Again


     The more mankind knows about his world, the more reasons he has to fear for the end. Meteors, global warming, global cooling, nuclear winter and more have consumed the media for more than 100 years.


     Modern media reporting on global warming has been a lot like the people who stand on street corners with sandwich boards that read, “The End is Near.” The difference is many people take the news seriously.

     For weeks, CNN has been hawking its “Planet in Peril” special about the dangers of species loss, deforestation, overpopulation and global warming. R.E.M. even debuted its depressing new song “Until the Day is Done” in the program’s trailer. They should have stuck with their apocalyptic standby.


     The hour before “Planet in Peril” aired on October 23, “Anderson Cooper 360” warned about a “century of fires” like the ones burning in Southern California thanks to global warming.


     “Some climatologists believe global [climate] changes are making firestorms like these more likely,” said Cooper, before introducing CNN’s Tom Foreman.


     Foreman tied global warming and fires together saying, “Climatologists say, while we can’t blame one fire on climate change, we can say that these factors are combining in that area [Southern California] to set up what could be a century of fires just like what we’re seeing now.”


     “NBC Nightly News” also took the opportunity on October 23 to link the California fires to global warming and interview global warming alarmist professor Michael Oppenheimer. NBC failed to say that Oppenheimer is a science adviser for the left-wing eco-group Environmental Defense.


     And if that’s not scary enough, journalists have been repeating outrageous claims from “experts” predicting billions will die.


     Rolling Stone repeated a prediction from eco-left extremist James Lovelock, founder of the Gaia theory, who claimed that global warming will kill six billion. The magazine summed things up saying “The human race is doomed” in an online story October 17.


     Jeremy Lovell of Reuters wrote on September 12, “Climate change could have global security implications on a par with nuclear war unless urgent action is taken.” The article didn’t include any skeptics of that prediction.


      Earlier in the year, Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society warned in an editorial that mankind is a “virus” “killing our host the planet Earth.” Watson also called for a global population reduction to “fewer than one billion.”


      And don’t forget the apocalyptic reports about the disappearing bees and Colony Collapse Disorder. Without honeybees “experts warn that one-third of the food supply … is at risk,” wrote The Washington Post on September 10 in an article linking climate change to the bee disappearance. “It’s a frightening prospect.”

Tales of Fright Gone By


     Scaring viewers is nothing new for the media. Remember avian flu?


     Network reporters hyped that as a serious danger to humans, even before any people in the United States had contracted the disease: “No human cases of bird flu have been found yet in the United States. And maybe we should underscore the word ‘yet,’” warned CNN’s Soledad O’Brien on Feb. 21, 2006.


     O’Brien went on in that segment to worry about pandemic bird flu (H5N1) in America. But according to the World Health Organization, there have been 331 cases and 203 deaths from the disease in the entire world as of October 17. Not one of those has been in the United States. That is fewer than the roughly 233 people who died in just two days of car accidents in the United States in 2006, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


     But the “NBC Nightly News” emphasized that bird flu “can kill humans” on Feb. 16, 2006, and ABC also hyped the threat. The network interviewed Dr. Robert Webster, “the father of bird flu” who predicted the virus would mutate and “that 50 percent of the population could die.” That’s a frightful prediction.


     Those scary stories about bird flu had a direct impact on American businesses. U.S. poultry companies saw stock drops and loss of earnings. According to the March 2, 2006,  Wall Street Journal, Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. revised earnings forecasts downward because of the flu scare, and Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN) stock tumbled on April 13, 2006, to its lowest point since December 2003. In July 2005, Tyson Foods stock soared to $19.47 per share, but by April 13, 2006, it had fallen to $13.08 per share.


     Now the latest health worry is the “Superbugs.” We’re not talking about “Arachnophobia,” but a particularly virulent strain of staph infection known as MRSA that has closed schools across the east coast for cleaning.


     Despite Tom Costello of NBC’s statement that “It’s not an epidemic,” the October 18 “Today” report was quite frightening with an onscreen graphic of a flashing siren and the word “Emergency.”


     Dr. Gilbert Ross of the American Council on Science and Health cautioned against increased calls for pharmaceutical regulation because of “superbugs.”


     “Now the need is clearly for new, effective drugs – antibiotics and vaccines – to counter the variant germs that increasingly threaten us … We need stronger weapons against these infections, and incentives must be given to pharmaceutical researchers to create such weapons,” wrote Ross on October 19.

Creating a State of Fear


     Sometimes it seemed the media borrowed from the “Goosebumps” series or even science fiction. Like when “Today” co-anchor Matt Lauer hosted SciFi network’s “Countdown to Doomsday” in 2006.


     On that program Lauer addresses the 10 biggest threats to mankind, from aliens to “evil robots.” Sounds like fantasy, right? But Lauer’s news background gave an air of respectability to the documentary, and the show was filled with news footage from Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 and more to reinforce that impression.


     Climate crusader Al Gore was included in the segment, calling climate change “the most dangerous crisis our civilization has ever confronted,” but global warming didn’t rank above No. 4 on the list.


     However, Lauer did complain seriously about the damage humans have done to the planet and about overpopulation: “The stark reality is that there are simply too many of us and we consume too much,” said Lauer, repeating the discredited Malthusian idea that mankind was growing too fast and would outpace its food supply.


     In Michael Crichton’s novel “State of Fear,” the main character’s notions about life and the dangers of global warming particularly were challenged by a character named Professor Norman Hoffman. In a monologue, Hoffman delivered a particularly salient point about fear: 

     “Industrialized nations provide their citizens with unprecedented safety, health, and comfort. Yet modern people live in abject fear … Like the belief in witchcraft, it’s an extraordinary delusion—a global fantasy worthy of Middle Ages. Everything is going to hell, and we must all live in fear.”