Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Only Thing We Have To Fear...

Our intrepid media are at it again.

For months, while the ebola plague raged on in West Africa, American media titillated our gawkers-at-a-train-wreck mentality with a constant stream of little articles insinuating that the disease was poised to pounce upon the United States, and what were we going to do when that happened?  The annoying and non-factual speculation did nothing positive…was in fact designed to do nothing positive.  It was designed to sell soap.  

It was designed to stir up fear among a population arrogantly ignorant about many things—infectious disease included (anti-vaxxers, anyone?)—and entice millions of clicks to non-articles about the disease and the threat.  To pages lined with ads, of course.  Fear does indeed sell soap. 

Unfortunately, it also creates a public prone to over-reaction, finger-pointing, xenophobia and mob mentality.  The kind of mentality that would allow a politician’s tweetthat the best control for the disease would be to execute anyone testing positive for it—to fade into the background of heinous statements and speculation splattered all over the internet concerning this unfamiliar disease and our irrational fear of it.

But then, lo and behold, the virus DID make it to our shores, as it was bound to do in this shrunken world of international air travel.  This presented a golden opportunity for our media to fear-monger, and they took full advantage of it.  For a couple of weeks, the top five stories on any news outlet centered upon ebola, the fear, the quarantines, the outcry…

And the mistakes.  This is where it gets interesting.

Has anyone but me noticed how the ebola story has suddenly seemed to burn itself out?

Ebolaebolaebola!!!!! is no longer screaming at us from every available news outlet.  This morning, MSNBC has one ebola story in their top ten—and it’s ranked number 6.  CBS features one story on its home page, which you have to scroll down to see.  ABC news features links to a couple of stories in their sidebar—one about an international travel ban and one featuring good news about one of the ebola-infected US nurses.  And, very tellingly, not one ebola story appears on Fox News’ home page this morning.

So what’s going on? Has the ADD American public gotten over the whole ebola thing and begun to wander the airwaves in search of the next new sensation?  Have American news outlets conceded that they over-covered the story and that there is other news going on in the world?  Or have they finally decided they’ve done enough fear mongering and are now taking the high road in an altruistic effort to practice responsible journalism and NOT create more panic?

Dream on.

Sure, there are a few ebola stories still floating around.  But there are almost none concerning the topic that should be front and center of the discussion:  the glaring inadequacies of our for-profit medical culture.  The culture that puts profits before patients, cash before care, corporations before individuals.  The culture that has made our health “care” system an unnavigable tangle of red tape, referrals, inadequate diagnostics and botched communication.  The “treat ‘em and street ‘em” mentality that saves shareholders money (and endangers the public health) by putting very sick people back out on the streets.

This culture has latched on to the idea that medical care is one of the few services left stateside that cannot be outsourced.  And as one of the last remaining American industries where there are still actual jobs to be had, it has become partners with another expanding American entrepreneurial effort—for-profit educational institutions.  These “colleges” provide our health “care” system with a steady stream of poorly-trained warm bodies, churned out as quickly as they can be inadequately vetted and licensed.  Who are then unleashed upon an unsuspecting public, were they are given an increasing number of life-or-death responsibilities for which they have not been properly trained and for which they have no visceral understanding or respect.

Yep…our national nod to capitalism has turned our health “care” system into one huge profit center.  One that is never going to go away—because people will always need medical care. 

Unfortunately, it has also compromised the system so badly that it has become a gigantic money-making, compassionless juggernaut that has little to do with "health," nothing to do with “care” and everything to do with profit.   

This has been going on for years.  American medicine has descended not too gradually into a hellish system designed to facilitate the ring of the cash register, at the ultimate expense of the effectiveness of the system. 

Some critics—who are largely ignored and given little credence—estimate that over 200,000 American lives are lost through medical mistakes each year.  I’ll bet that if you take a moment to think about it, you personally know at least one patient who has been dangerously misdiagnosed, or whose treatment has been complicated or botched by miscommunication, specialist-hopping and/or buck-passing.  Off the top of my head I can think of one woman—my sister’s sister-in-law—who was scheduled for a tonsillectomy by a doctor who was unaware that she was on blood-thinners for a heart condition; the surgery would have killed her.  Luckily, they discovered the error the day before she was scheduled to go under the knife. 

But how many people don’t get so lucky?  How lucky will we ALL be if a real infectious disease threat descends upon our health “care” system, which demonstrated in spades earlier this month its complete cluelessness in handling such a menace?

And yet, our media have not merely dropped the ball on this story.  They have actively thrown it down a well and poured concrete on it.

Ask yourself why.

The answer that comes to mind should probably have something to do with 90% of American media being under the control of six large corporations.  Corporations which have the power to disseminate the exact messages they want the public to hear.  And kill the ones they don’t.  Ask yourself in whose best interests it would be not to raise questions that might cause the cash registers at hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices and pharmacies to stop ringing with merry abandon.  You can’t really wonder what happened to investigative reporting here in the good ole U S of A, can you?

Unfortunately, this—not ebola, or terrorism, or imagined WMD in some Muslim country—is what could ultimately be the death of us:

What we don’t know.

What we don’t want to know.

What we are not allowed to know.