Editor's note: The following op-ed originally appeared in the Washington Times.
As the Ebola crisis unfolds here in the United States, it’s becoming painfully obvious why the American people can’t trust their own government. Mind you, any federal government isn’t exactly an entity anyone should trust completely, yet Americans understand that while politics will always unleash certain shenanigans, in general there had been a sense that people in Washington and our various agencies at least had our best interests in mind.
Unfortunately, that sentiment has become, well, sentimental.
On Sept. 16, President Obama had a news conference about Ebola at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. After the president noted, “We have to act fast. We can’t dawdle on this one” (So, he’s dawdled on some other crises involving life and death?), he declared the Ebola situation in West Africa was “spiraling out of control” and then assured us the chances of Ebola coming to America was “extremely low.”
Well, apparently not so extremely low. On Sept. 20, Liberian Ebola carrier Thomas Eric Duncan arrived in the United States, just four days after the president’s comments that it would likely not happen.
Delivering platitudes and patronizing reassurances about life-and-death issues reveals a systemic culture that prefers to treat the average citizen as an infant, and certainly not worth treating as an equal.
Like so many other events during his presidency, in grasping Mr. Obama’s approach with Ebola, we have two options: Either he and his team deliberately chose to mislead the American public about a dangerous situation, or he is actually clueless. Either option tells the American people that endeavoring to believe what we’re told by those in charge of this nation is a fool’s errand.
The moment it was revealed the United States had its first diagnosed Ebola case, the main message from various officials centered on the insistence that we are not to panic or become hysterical. Information was limited to repeating the narrative that Ebola could only be transmitted if you were in direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids with someone, according to the CDC guidelines, “who is very sick.” This meme was repeated over and over again by officials at the CDC and many in the mainstream media. Until it began to unravel.
The CDC’s Ebola happy talk, usually delivered by Director Tom Frieden, was finally exposed on CNN. Dr. Frieden was speaking with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, also a physician, once again to reassure everyone that everything was A-OK. A news anchor asked the doctor to reassure viewers that Ebola wasn’t “highly contagious” so as to help the American people “back away from the panic.”
Dr. Frieden happily complied, “It’s not like the flu, not like the common cold, it requires direct physical contact.” Then the anchor chimes in and says, “If he sneezes on you, it’s a different story.” With that one statement, Dr. Frieden was compelled to admit existing CDC guidelines do warn simply standing within a three-foot radius of someone with Ebola poses a risk of infection.
If these reporters had not forced the discussion, Dr. Frieden would have stuck with his misleading description of the how the virus is communicated.
Now we can put “You must be in direct personal contact with bodily fluids” in the same file as “You can keep your insurance, doctor and hospital” and “It was a YouTube video.”
Viewers were not only seeing a federal official exposed on live TV as not being completely honest, but they also saw what’s possible when reporters actually do their job.
For the past six years, the news media have been incurious about whether or not what the federal officials say is true, or even if they’re getting the whole story. This is likely not so much a lack of interest by reporters, but a reflection of their own fears over what the truth is about their various liberal heroes.
There is a natural revulsion to being insulted by “officials” who use the smear that we’ll panic as an excuse to not tell us the truth. Americans have been through a great deal since the Founding itself. Whether it be world wars, debilitating viruses, AIDS, Sept. 11 or terrorism, Americans come together, face reality and defeat the enemy.
Politicians do, however, have another reason to keep information from us: Each failure of the system exposes their incompetence.
The many scandals of the Obama presidency all could do with a healthy dose of light brought by curious reporters who are still interested in investigating and finding the truth, regardless of which politicians it exposes.