Exaggeration epidemic spreads

The local papers were covered with it. The late night news bombarded its viewers with it. Parents feared for the safety of their children. Salivating reporters hungry for the scoop invaded Brandt Hall. What caused the mayhem? What caused the confusion?

A University of La Verne student got a bad case of meningitis. And apparently, it was a slow week for real news.

The media spread the word that the ULV campus was in danger of a meningitis outbreak after a ULV freshman was diagnosed with the disease, earlier last week. Of course, simply reporting that one student had been infected wasn’t enough of an attention grabber for the big shot news outlets. They wanted more. They wanted the ratings. They wanted something juicy. So, they sensationalized the story a bit and made those outside of the La Verne campus fear that the school was indeed contaminated and destined for destruction.

“The concern is being overblown. They think we have quarantines going on. When you only have one case, there is no outbreak,” said Charles Bentley, ULV spokesman.

Although there was never an outbreak, many were under the impression that an epidemic was looming. ABC 7 teased its viewers with the words “Meningitis Outbreak?” on a segment that aired April 27.

We know, we know, these teasers are needed to lure the viewers into watching the segment. But the misleading slugs not only lure them in, they give viewers the wrong impression and lead them to worry about something that may really be of little concern.

What was really interesting about this story wasn’t the threat of a possible outbreak, but the fact that ABC 7, a news station that specifically targets Orange County and the greater Los Angeles area, would be so eager to cover a story that is specifically linked to little ol’ La Verne. It is understandable that the San Gabriel Valley Tribune and the Daily Bulletin would follow the story so closely. They are the local news media. ABC 7 is not. But we suppose a good over sensationalized story about infected students would make for a good scare, regardless of the locale.

Of course, ABC wasn’t the only station on the scene. On April 27, there were a total of six camera crews on campus searching for the story about the sickness. And it didn’t end then. KTTV 11, a little behind schedule, was on campus Monday covering the horrific epidemic.

The real goal of these stations isn’t to report the news in its simplest form, it is instead to report the juiciest news first.

“Television is a question of sensational news versus informational news,” Bentley said.

What story better supports this concept than that of the Runaway Bride.

The story of a bride getting cold feet and hightailing a few states over has been getting a little too much airtime lately.

Yeah, so she faked her own kidnapping. Big whoop. Would the story be making the nightly news if this gal wasn’t a middle class, slightly good-looking white woman? Probably not. We could understand covering the story once and maybe recapping with a follow up sometime later, but nightly updates about this pathetic story and the even more pathetic would-be-groom are just a little too nauseating.

As difficult as it may seem, it’s time for the media to stop indulging in half-truths and exaggerated stories. We understand that the news might get a little boring as a result and a few reporters might be out of a job, but sacrifices must be made.

The only outbreak that has occurred has been one of over sensationalized news coverage and its time for that epidemic to end.

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Posted on May 6, 2005
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