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Ebola Exaggerations Called Political “Lie of the Year”

An independent political fact-checking organization recently lambasted media hype about the Ebola virus in the United States.
PolitiFact.com, a Pulitzer Prize-winning nonpartisan site, named Ebola exaggerations by media outlets and politicians the “Lie of the Year.”

Noting that many more people died in the U.S. this year from the flu than Ebola, PolitiFact mentioned several inaccurate claims made about Ebola and its spread.

These inaccurate claims about Ebola in the U.S. “distorted the debate about a serious public health issue.”

“When combined, the claims edged the nation toward panic,” PolitiFact added to explain the consequences of the media coverage. “Governors fought Washington over the federal response.”

Politicians singled out for making false claims were Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

Other individuals specifically criticized in the PolitiFact report included Donald Trump and Fox News analyst George Will.

PolitiFact’s analysis of media mentions of Ebola shows a sharp spike in October and early November, which suggests the disease might have been politicized as part of the midterm election campaigns.

Even as Ebola remains a real concern in western Africa, U.S. media coverage dropped off sharply after the election.

“Ebola’s particular narrative helped breathe life into the fear,” PolitiFact noted. “The recipe: A mix of a far-off continent, immigration fears, terrorism concerns and the best scripts Hollywood could deliver.”

In contrast to the exaggerations and U.S.-focus of cable news outlets and politicians, EthicsDaily.com offered a different blend of Ebola news.

Of the two-dozen articles and columns addressing Ebola since late July, only a couple focused on Ebola concerns in the U.S. – and those pieces were intended to combat the hype.

“In the United States, the fear of Ebola spreading has been great – and greatly politicized,” Leroy Seat wrote in a column in early November. “[F]ear has done more harm in our country than Ebola to this point.”

Elijah Brown used an October column to urge U.S. Christians to help those in West Africa. Yet, he also noted the importance of helping to stop false claims in the U.S.

“Speak calm and truth in an environment prone to hysteria and misinformation,” he wrote. “Within the U.S., there will likely be an uptick in news coverage as individuals are being watched for Ebola symptoms. While precautions are warranted, Christians must avoid responding out of alarm, fear or misinformation.”

The Ebola coverage by EthicsDaily.com instead focused on the real problems facing communities in western Africa.

In particular, coverage highlighted the struggles in Liberia, a nation both with a serious Ebola outbreak and a strong Baptist presence.

EthicsDaily.com ran columns by Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary student Fayiah Tamba and Hoping Communities in Liberia executive director Faliku S. Dukuly.

EthicsDaily.com also created a photo news story with numerous recent photos from Liberia.

Additionally, EthicsDaily.com created five online videos with on-the-ground footage from Liberia.

These videos are: Ebola Crisis in Liberia, Ebola Crisis and the Ricks Institute in Liberia, Ebola Crisis and the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary, Ebola Crisis and Food Distribution at Ebola Treatment Unit and Ebola Crisis and the Comfort K. Toe Orphanage Home.

The footage was shot by Dukuly and edited by EthicsDaily.com media producer Cliff Vaughn.

EthicsDaily.com also included two Liberian Baptists in the Global Baptist Christmas Greetings video. Appearing in the video is Lawrence Cooper of the Ricks Institute and Edwin Dorley of Washington Chapel Baptist Church.

PolitiFact’s previous “Lie of the Year” designations went to false claims by Sarah Palin about “ObamaCare” “death panels” (2009), false claims by Republicans about ObamaCare being a “government takeover of health care” (2010), false claims by Democrats saying “Republicans voted to end Medicare” (2011), false claims by Mitt Romney about Jeep’s business (2012), and false claims by President Obama on “if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it” (2013).

Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com. You can follow him on Twitter @BrianKaylor.