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Panic-driven media fueling pandemic fear

Empower Wisconsin | March 16,  2020

By Valerie Richardson, The Washington Times

Concerns about the coronavirus pandemic are both warranted and understandable, but the media is increasingly coming under fire for stoking a panic mentality that experts decry as both counter-productive and unsupported by the facts.

In addition to the stock market’s daily roller coaster ride, grocery stores and warehouse clubs in some areas have been picked clean of essentials such as toilet paper, paper towels and sanitizing wipes (or have rationed sales to prevent that) as coronavirus coverage dominates social media and the 24/7 news cycle.

The message from public health and infectious disease experts: It’s important to take the coronavirus threat seriously, but it’s also critical not to overreact.

“There’s been a mad rush to go out and purchase all these items in anticipation of the next apocalypse. That’s not what we’re dealing with,” said Dr. Robert Quigley, regional medical director of International SOS. “We’re dealing clearly with a pandemic for all intents and purposes, but the vast majority of us who are going to contract the disease are not going to be significantly impacted.”

University of California, Irvine associate professor E. Alison Holman, who has published research on media exposure to mass-trauma events, said the toilet paper scare appeared to have originated with articles about stocking up before the virus’ spread.

“A week ago, there were a handful of articles in major newspapers saying, here’s what you should do to prepare for the coronavirus. And one of the top things that was listed on at least two or three websites — major media outlets — was: Buy toilet paper,” Ms. Holman said. “I think some of the freak-out about getting toilet paper has to do with that.”

She described the media-fueled worry as “a little overblown,” while others have gone so far as to accuse the press of sensationalizing the virus to juice ratings.

Celebrity internist Dr. Drew Pinsky said Tuesday that media outlets “really somehow need to be held accountable because they are hurting people.”

“I think it was a concerted effort by the press to capture your eyes, and in doing so they did it by inducing panic,” said Dr. Pinsky, who operates a private practice in Pasadena, California, in an interview with DJ Sixsmith on CBS Los Angeles.

Read more at The Washington Times 

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