The Fever Dream of the Yellow Press: What the Factoid Is Wrong With These People?

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Jornal do Trem: Cheerfully amateurish little free weekly covers the Great “Yellow Jack is Back!” Panic of 2008. “On the wings of the fever: “Authorities try to contain the alarm of the population, which fears a general epidemic of yellow fever.”

Many political analysts and journalists continue to ignore, in an irresponsible manner, the findings of the public health authorities.the government says one thing and the news media promote another, and this is bad.— Temporão of the MiniHealth

On his blog, Brazilian biz journo Luis Nassif comments on the moral panic over yellow fever, in a couple of posts so far. See also

His headline: “The media’s fever.”

If I were giving it an English headline, I might use the proverbial phrase “fever dream” to denote the general cluelessness about — or deliberate disdain for — best practices for covering public-interest risk-management stories.

Nassif is a sensible, old-school kind of guy and a regular read of mine. I do not always agree with him (or know enough about the subject to have an opinion). But I always come away having learned a little something.

Which is my general mission in life. Isn’t it everybody’s?

Today, for example, Nassif explains why Valor Econômico is such a pretty darn good newspaper in the W$J mold.

Now if he would only explain why the subscription prices have to be so incredibly freaking astronomical. What is the thing printed on, freaking gold leaf, hammered out by hand by Amazonian craftsmen?

The first post dates from January 20.

Na “Folha” de hoje, com muitos dias de atraso, entrevista com o Ministro da Saúde José Gomes Temporão analisando a febre amarela da mídia. A entrevista foi para Angela Pinho e Johanna Nublat, da Sucursal de Brasília, com pequena chamada de primeira página (clique aqui).

In today’s Folha de S. Paulo, many, many days too late, an interview with the Minister of Health, José Gomes Temporão, analysing the media’s version of the yellow fever [scare.] The interview was given to Angela Pinho and Johanna Nublat of the Brasília bureau, which a small call-out on the front page (click here).

If you want to find responsible adults at the Folha, besides the ombudsman, the reportagem local seems to have quite a few, and a handful seem to be hanging in there at the Brasília bureau as well. May they all be promoted to positions of responsibility.

Alguns trechos:

Some excerpts:

O número de casos vem diminuindo de maneira consistente desde 2000 e é bem menor do que em 2003. Isso tem a ver com a dinâmica de circulação do vírus em regiões de mata e com a entrada de pessoas não vacinadas nessas regiões. Todos os anos o Brasil apresenta casos de febre amarela silvestre porque nós temos matas, macacos, mosquitos e o vírus, circulando permanentemente nessas regiões. O que aconteceu, de uma certa forma, é que houve uma interpretação por algum motivo equivocada da população que desnecessariamente começou a procurar vacina mesmo não necessitando.

The number of cases has been dropping consistently since 2000 and is a lot lower than it was in 2003. This has to do with how the virus circulates in jungle regions and the entry of unvaccinated persons into those areas. Every year Brazil presents some cases of sylvatic yellow fever because we have jungles, monkeys, mosquitos and the virus, circulating permanently in these areas. What has happened, in a way, is that there was an interpretation — a misinterpretation, for some reason — on the part of the population, who began unnecessarily to seek out vaccination even when they did not need it.

Fui em cadeia de rádio e televisão e posso confirmar que muitos analistas políticos e jornalistas continuam ignorando de maneira irresponsável a determinação das autoridades sanitárias. Não quero generalizar, mas o governo fala uma coisa e parte da imprensa estimula outra coisa e isso é muito ruim. É preciso ter mais cuidado no trato das questões de saúde pública e abstrair um pouco a questão dos governos e da política com “p” pequeno e pensar na política de saúde.

I went on nationwide radio and TV and I can confirm to you that many political analysts and journalists continue to ignore, in an irresponsible manner, the [findings and decisions] of the public health authorities. I do not want to generalize, but the government says one thing and the news media promote another, and this is bad. It is necessary to take more care with public health issues and separate them out from issues of governments and partisan politics in favor of health policy.

Foi principalmente no caso de parte da mídia. Os jornais de São Paulo, a meu ver, vêm cobrindo de maneira mais responsável essa questão do que outras. Não quero generalizar, mas a imprensa paulista e carioca pautam muito a imprensa regional, e isso leva para o interior uma percepção da realidade que pode induzir as pessoas a um comportamento errático, inseguro, emocional. São seres humanos.

This was mainly the case on the media’s part. The São Paulo metro dailies, in my view, are covering the topic more responsibly than others. I do not want to generalize, but the São Paulo and Rio press often feature the regional press in their news agenda, and this carries an impression of reality back to the interior of Brazil that might induce people to behave erratically, emotionally, out of a sense of insecurity. They are only human.

Quando você lê na manchete de um jornal “Mais um caso de febre amarela”, quando é um caso suspeito, mais uma morte onde não havia morte, e sem dizer que é silvestre, o que você acha que o cidadão fará? Imediatamente levanta e vai se vacinar.

When you read a newspaper headline like “Another case of yellow fever,” when what you have is a suspected case, or that one more has died, when no one has in fact died, and without making clear that this a case of sylvatic transmission, what do you think the citizen is doing to do? He is immediately going to jump up and go get vaccinated.

Padrão Kamel

The Ali Kamel Standard

The Organizações Globo’s journalistic Central Scrutinizer, Ali Kamel, is the most intellectually dishonest man in the Western and Southern hemispheres.

Globo should fire him.

With extreme prejudice.

Sooner than now.

See also

I believe this is Nassif adding a comment of his own now:

Já alertei várias vezes aqui que, quando caminhava para se tornar o melhor jornal brasileiro, “O Globo” foi envolvido nesse clima maluco de politização e virou o fio.

I have already warned several times that, even as it heads in the direction of becoming the best newspaper in Brazil, O Globo has gotten caught up in this insane climate of politicization and become the main [font of gabbling nonsense on the subject –my creative translation (–Ed.)].

Na edição de hoje, a chamada de primeira página (pequena) é para a oitava morte por febre amarela. A manchete principal da página 12 é sobre a oitava morte. No meio da matéria, o alerta escondido de 31 casos de intoxicação por vacinação e o alerta (escondido), que se limita a dizer que a vacina não é inócua.

In today’s edition, the (tiny) call-out on the front page leads to coverage of the eighth yellow fever death. The top headline on page 12 is about the eighth death. News of the 31 cases of intoxication from (unnecessary) vaccination is hidden in the middle of the article, which limits itself to saying that the vaccine is not innocuous [without risk of side effects].

A responsabilidade social da mídia exigiria, no mínimo, alerta de primeira página contra o excesso de vacinação.

Social responsibility demands of the media, at minimum, a front-page warning about overdosing on the vaccine.

This is a striking factoid, I think.

There are more than twice as many reported cases of people getting sick from panicked overvaccination than from the disease itself.

Nassif’s second “fever dream” post, from yesterday or today:

Não tem jeito. O “Estadão” entrou no tema do pânico injustificado contra a febre amarela, entrevistando o maior especialista brasileira, Luiz Hildebrando Pereira da Silva. Belíssima entrevista de Fabiane Leite que saiu publicada no caderno “Vida&” – depois de uma semana de pânico sobre a febre amarela nas editorias nobres.

… The Estadão has now addressed the topic of the unjustified panic about yellow fever, interviewing the most renowned Brazilian specialist on the subject, Luiz Hildebrando Pereira da Silva.

Who is, I think I read, head of a tropical disease research institute in Rondônia.

An excellent interview by Fabiane Leite that came out in the lifestyle section — after a week of yellow fever panic in the major news media. 

O que diz Hildebrando (clique aqui):

What Hildebrando said:

(…) “Não se pode fazer vacinação preventiva de população de uma área só porque apareceram casos em pessoas que invadiram área de floresta ou passaram dias em ecoturismo. Isso não coloca em perigo a população das áreas que não estão com esse mesmo tipo de comportamento e, na minha maneira de ver, foi um erro estratégico do Ministério da Saúde”, afirmou Silva, diretor do Instituto de Pesquisas em Patologias Tropicais de Rondônia. “Não haveria a necessidade disso”.

“You cannot do preventive vaccination of the population in a given area just because cases have shown up of people who entered rainforest or jungle areas or spent days on ecotours. This does not put the population at risk in areas where people do not engage in this type of behavior, and in my view, was a strategic error of the health ministry,” said Silva, director of [a Rondônia tropical disease research center.] “There was probably no need for it.”

(…) “Eu me informei e técnicos dão explicações de que às vezes são obrigados a atender a certas necessidades extremamente improváveis por questões de ordem psicológica, para mostrar que o ministério é capaz, para garantir tranqüilidade às pessoas.”

“I looked into the matter, and technical experts are explaining that they are sometimes obliged to address risks that are actually extremely remote for reasons of a pyschological nature, to show that the Ministry is on top of the situation, to set people’s minds at ease.’

Até ontem, 31 pessoas já tinham apresentado reações adversas à vacina, principalmente em razão do recebimento de mais de uma dose em curto espaço de tempo, admitiu o ministério. (…)

As of yesterday, 31 people had presented adverse reactions to the vaccine, mainly after taking more than one dose in a short space of time, the Ministry admitted.

(…) “O Ministério da Saúde é plenamente capacitado para bloquear qualquer epidemia de febre amarela na cidade. O mosquito que se infecta não voa nem 5 km e as pessoas infectadas não transmitem a doença por toda a vida. Tenho a impressão de que há pânico e a imprensa precisa contribuir para dizer que não há risco de epidemia”, afirmou ainda.

[tktktktk]

Cá para nós: haveria algo mais jornalístico, que enfatizasse a responsabilidade social da imprensa, do que divulgar que não existe epidemia de febre amarela, não existe risco?

We would also ask: Could there have been something a little more journalistic, that would emphasize the social responsibility of the press, than publishing that there is no yellow fever epidemic, that there is no risk?

Good point.

Expect Judy Millerist excuses — “you are only as good as your sources” — from the usual suspects: “The government did not communicate well.”

Which there is a decent case to make for, actually. The undersecretary in charge seems very competent, I thought he tended to talk way above everybody’s head.

And the press, instead of doing us the service of producing a value-added “for dummies” translation, decided to play dumb itself.

My general diagnosis, as always: Brazilian journalism lacks meritocracy.

It tends to separate the wheat from the chaff and promote the chaff far beyond the level of its incompetence.

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