Week Before Fatal Contact, ABC Leads with Bird Flu Plan

     A week before its sweeps month movie Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America, ABCs World News Tonight led its broadcast clucking about the federal governments action plan to prevent a costly pandemic in the United States. But when The Washington Post broke the story with an early look at the plan in mid-April, it gave it just passing attention.

     Tonight, the new White House plan for fighting a bird flu outbreak. Colossal disruptions and restrictions of movement to keep people alive, anchor Elizabeth Vargas opened the May 2 evening newscast.

     Avian flu commanded the first story of the program, with correspondent Martha Raddatz noting a day before the official release of the White House plan for avian flu that the statistics are frightening. The report projects that a modern pandemic could lead to the deaths of 200,000 to 2 million U.S. citizens.

     But the governments report was in preparation for weeks, with the Post previewing the plan in a front page April 16 article by staff writer Ceci Connolly.

     The Treasury Department is poised to sign agreements with other nations to produce currency if U.S. mints cannot operate, while the Defense Department would stockpile millions of latex gloves and Veterans Affairs would implement a drive-through medical exam Connolly reported in the Easter Sunday paper.

     Connollys sneak peek at the federal plan received short shrift on the April 16 World News Tonight, with anchor Dan Harris summarizing the Post article in two sentences, reporting how the federal plan envisions a worst-case scenario and widespread shortages of vaccines and supplies.

     ABCs bird-flu-themed sweeps movie premieres on May 9. Co-producer Diana Kerew told TV.com that the movie was scheduled because of its topicality.

     Thats what worries some flu experts.

     The Associated Press reported on April 30 that infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm worries that the blurring of information and entertainment could do the public a disservice and plans a conference call with television critics before the movies air date.

     ABC didnt need a movie-of-the-week to do the public a disservice. On NewsBusters.org, BMI Director Dan Gainor documented how ABCs Jim Avila swallowed whole the alarmist hype from Dr. Robert Webster, the father of the bird flu when he warned that 50 percent of the population could die from the virus.

     The Business & Media Institute documented the medias pandemic of hype in covering bird flu, including an editorial by Dr. Elizabeth Whelan of the American Council on Science and Health.