On CNN’s Reliable Sources this morning there was an interesting discussion about the media’s role in spreading panic about the swine flu. Mark Feldstein formerly of CNN, and currently of George Washington University pointed out that the news networks have a “vested economic interest in promoting fear.”
Here is the video from Media Matters
I find it interesting that this discussion would take place on CNN because they have essentially transformed themselves into a swine flu network. Host Howard Kurtz asked Mark Feldstein if the coverage was overkill, “Well I think it, and I don’t think, with all due respect to Dr. Tim Johnson, that it is just the media transcribing like stenographers what officials say. The media have a vested interest an economic vested interest in promoting this fear. They don’t want to get too carried away or they lose credibility.”
Elizabeth Cohen of CNN defended the media’s coverage, but it is true that a crisis means money for the cable networks. Ratings skyrocket for all the networks during a crisis, so it isn’t a surprise that the media whips of the fear associated with a story like the swine flu. If you don’t think that the coverage has gone into overdrive, I would point out that every single one of the Sunday morning talk shows spent time talking about the swine flu today.
Even as it looks like the swine flu won’t be as bad as initially thought, the media keeps hammering away at the story, because the more people are afraid, the more they will watch, and increased viewership equals more money for the network. It is a serious story, but the merchandising of the swine flu has been designed to spread fear, because fear sells, and has become all about profit.