Scare journalism has been around as long as journalism itself, but recently it has taken over America and become a large moneymaker, especially for broadcast networks like Fox and CNN. The over-coverage of certain stories has led to nationwide panics over Ebola, police violence in Ferguson, food shortages, and even winter storms. Scare journalism holds a prevalent and infamous place in modern America.
Scare journalism has undergone a transformation that makes it not only less profitable, but also more deadly. No longer is it lining the pockets of newspaper magnates like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, but it is also enabling small time, Twitter-based journalists to take small steps in the business. Whereas Hearst, Pulitzer and their cohorts used their scare tactics and exaggeration, known as “yellow journalism”, to reap huge profits, these small-time embellishing reporters simply hype the next major catastrophe without much profit for themselves. Their messages reach far more people than Hearst or Pulitzer ever dreamed of, with their stories influencing many more uninformed Americans.
What is often ignored though, is that these small-time journalists get their paranoid-infused topics from major news outlets that should be professional and credible. These outlets are the ones getting their pockets lined. Let’s take a look at the recent panic over Ebola. It all started with the story, blasted out on major networks like Fox and CNN, of several doctors coming back to the United States from African countries and being treated for Ebola, the first cases of the disease in the States. The story blew up when a Liberian named Thomas Clark Duncan came over to America, after lying about his extensive exposure to Ebola, and later dying in a Texas hospital. Soon the Internet was flooded with stories. Ebola was apparently all over the States and suddenly became a highly contagious disease. Twitter and other social networks were ablaze with “Ebola guides” containing sketchy stats, and flat-out lies in the form of articles. Ebola could have just been covered like what it is: a deadly disease that is easily prevented by clean living conditions. But, in the name of profit and personal advancement, it was presented as the next Bubonic plague. This is how it goes in journalism today.
Scare journalism is here to stay, it seems. No recent signs point to its decline and the consumers give no reason for it to stop. Routine stories will continue to be presented as life-changing cataclysms. As long as journalists have ambition, it will continue to be a prime shortcut to the show and a prominent part of American journalism.