The Home Of The Brave?

[ Posted Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 – 16:47 UTC ]

Right after I post this column, I am going to go watch the first game of the World Series, which (thankfully, unlike the rest of the postseason) will actually appear on broadcast television. Now, while I personally was cheering for an "all orange-and-black" World Series (right before Hallowe'en!), sadly the Orioles did not make it past the Royals -- even after posting a spectacular season, where they wound up around 15 games ahead of the New York Yankees (with the Red Sox in the basement). That right there is an almost-miraculous season in the toughest division in the baseball, so to get within one step of the finals was spectacular enough for Baltimore fans. At least, for this one. This is all one way of saying I will be rooting for the San Francisco Giants against Kansas City this evening (another big reason is to promote marital bliss, since my wife is a big Giants fan).

But I didn't sit down to write about baseball. Instead I'm going to just use it as a shameless hook to talk about something entirely different. Before tonight's game commences, as with all sporting events in America, we will be presented with a moment of civic pride. Tonight, the crowd will all stand and sing our national anthem -- in the bicentennial year of it being written, no less. Our national song's first verse (the one everyone knows the words to) is composed of two questions, much like a Jeopardy! response. Both ask essentially the same thing: "Is our flag still there? Can you see it?" The final question asks resoundingly: "O! say does that star-spangled Banner yet wave, o'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?" So while I admit it is a common journalistic affectation (one I use probably far too often) to transform a provocative statement into a headline question just by adding punctuation, today I can correctly say that the question mark in my title is actually part of the quote itself.

I have shortened this line to the part that asks the question that really needs asking right now (which is another way of saying my roundabout introductory ramblings are about to actually get to the point): Are we still "the home of the brave"? Are we, really? Or have we become a nation that responds to every perceived threat with nothing short of outright panic? One wonders what Francis Scott Key would say today were he to witness the metaphorical collective loss of sphincter control that seems to accompany each "crisis" that comes down the pike. Another way to ask this question is: Has America truly been showing its chops as "the land of the brave" to the rest of the world lately? Or have we fallen just a wee bit short of that lofty goal?

The national broadcast news finally -- finally! -- actually led with a different story than Ebola last night. This was after roughly three solid weeks of breathless reporting, which didn't just lead each newscast, but which consumed approximately half the screen time of each and every night's news shows -- across the board. For three weeks.

Of course, Americans have always been somewhat susceptible to mass hysteria, especially media-induced mass hysteria. The classic example is from Hallowe'en, in fact, when Orson Welles created a fictional bit of radio entertainment based on The War Of The Worlds, which convinced some folks back in 1938 that alien monsters were rampaging across New Jersey. But although the Welles broadcast was presented as art-imitating-life -- as a series of "news bulletins" throughout the course of what was ostensibly just a normal radio program -- it was entirely fictional. It was entertainment. No responsible news organization went on the air that night and told America -- as confirmed fact -- that aliens had indeed landed on the East Coast. The lines were blurred between news and entertainment, but in one direction only.

Nowadays, we have a combination of a profit motive and a political motive for blowing panicky stories out of all rational sense of proportion. The news media is not really in the business of disinterested fact-reporting as a civic service to give back to the American people in thanks for being allowed to use the public broadcast spectrum. Network news once used to be considered a "loss-leader" by the networks -- something they had to do out of civic duty (like jury duty, perhaps), but not something they tried to make any money from. Those days are long gone. These days, it's all about shocking the American public as much as possible in order to draw the audience in and get good ratings -- in order to keep the advertising rates high. Panic sells, in other words. The most obvious proof of this is the change in the way the national broadcast news covers the weather, which went from sober and fact-based to nothing short of sensationalism for the sake of sensationalism.

The Ebola obsession finally petered out at the end of last week, when the media's navel-gazing finally began (but, as usual, didn't go nearly far enough). The big stories on Ebola dwindled to "some people are panicking and going overboard in their fear" -- which was never really solidly connected to "we in the media have been trying to scare the pants off the public for a solid three weeks now, so it's really hard for us to fake amazement that some folks are apparently now freaking out."

The real reason the story is fading is that Ebola itself is fading in America. There have been no new patients to breathlessly report on, and the close family members of the patient who died (who lived with him while he was infectious and lived with all the contaminated household goods for days afterward) are now safely out of the quarantine period -- without any of them becoming sick.

To review the facts, we have had three weeks of apocalyptic obsession with Ebola from our trusted news organizations. Total deaths, to date, in America: one. Total infections which happened in America: two. Your chance of dying of Ebola in America: 1 in 320,000,000. Your chance of contracting Ebola in America: 1 in 160,000,000. We have not had hundreds of thousands get sick. We have not even had 50,000 die -- which is approximately the number of people who die of the flu every year. We have not seen 10,000 deaths, nor 1,000 deaths, nor 100 deaths. There has been precisely one death to date. When was the last time a single death launched this amount of news coverage? I can't think of a single example, personally. Even Ronald Reagan's death wasn't this big a story. Even Michael Jackson's death wasn't covered this obsessively, for such a length of time. And that's saying something.

If all of that doesn't convince you there is a rather large disconnect between the supposed "land of the brave" and today's America, consider the other bit of good news that appeared recently (which also contributed to the news media finally backing off their overzealous coverage): Nigeria was just declared Ebola-free, after taking aggressive contagion measures that worked exactly as designed.

The outbreak in Nigeria happened when a diplomat from Liberia arrived and collapsed at the Lagos airport. Both the airport and the hospital he was taken to were unprepared (this happened July 20, for perspective). But the key factor was the hospital refused to let him leave -- even after he raised a stink and tried to use his diplomatic status to place himself above medicine and above any sort of law. He failed (physical restraints became necessary) even though the Liberian government stated at the time that holding him was tantamount to kidnapping. The brave doctor who would not release him later contracted the illness and died. In all, twenty people were infected, and eight died. That is 1000 percent of the number infected in the United States, and 800 percent of the number of deaths here. And yet the disease was successfully contained.

Here in America, we have politicians demanding a "travel ban" on all flights from the affected countries in West Africa. President Obama should have immediately responded to such nonsense with a bold statement: "We have now successfully banned one hundred percent of flights to America from the affected countries," and then left it for everyone else to figure out that this was pathetically easy to do since no such flights actually existed -- outside the feverish delusions of a number of politicians, that is.

The politicians are slowly figuring this out, and are now calling for various other sorts of travel ban. One idea is to ban all visas from the affected countries, which would affect non-Americans. Another is to ban people who have stopped at some intermediate city (since there are no direct flights), but nobody will actually say how this would be possible. None of the proposed bans would bar American citizens from travelling from the affected areas, which would make them all utterly pointless (since a virus doesn't check the passport of who it infects).

Consider the following: the diplomat who travelled to Nigeria (their "patient zero") is a dual citizen of both Liberia and the United States. His family lives in Minnesota. He did not take a direct flight from Liberia to Nigeria -- he flew to a third city in between. And he's got diplomatic immunity. None of the travel bans now being suggested in America would have affected his travel one tiny bit, even if such measures were both actually possible and perfectly implemented. He was due to fly home to his family in Minnesota after his stop in Nigeria. And he's an American citizen.

What was especially telling in the Reuters report on Nigeria (not being an American news organization, the article was in no way panic-inducing or fear-mongering, it's worth pointing out -- it just had good solid information) were the things being subtly said about America in Nigeria. A presidential statement released with the news that the country was Ebola-free stated: "Nigeria's globally-acclaimed success against Ebola is a testimony to what Nigerians can achieve if they set aside their differences and work together." A Nigerian health official was even more blunt, saying that the lesson for the U.S. and the rest of the world is to "put aside the political barriers and focus on the issues at hand." Ouch. Reuters spelled it out a little more impolitely:

The cooperation between the central government in Nigeria and the opposition-led administration in Lagos state contrasts with the United States, where bickering between Republican and Democrat lawmakers over Ebola has eroded public trust.

This raises a painful comparison for Americans to face: are we even as good as Nigeria in a crisis? Have we truly fallen that low? Aren't we as a people confident that the American government and public health system can do the same thing that Nigeria just managed to do? Why are the people who normally beat their chests so proudly about "American exceptionalism" so often the ones crying "We're all going to die!" at the drop of a hat, these days? In sports, that would be derided as being a "fair-weather fan." To rise above it requires something a little less cowardly as a guiding principle, in fact, than unhinged and hysterical panic. Otherwise, we should just throw in the towel and change that last line in our national anthem.

We seem to have gotten back to baseball, which is where we began and where I'm going to end. Have a little faith in America, everyone. Let's all proudly not just sing but actually believe a tiny bit that we are indeed, "the land of the brave" -- with no question mark necessary at all.


[Credit Where Credit Is Due Department: I've been pondering this subject ever since I saw a thought-provoking headline on a story in the Huffington Post, which I will not quote (out of politeness) here. Bill Maher really deserves the credit for the core concept, in other words.]

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


18 Comments on “The Home Of The Brave?”

  1. [1] 
    Hawk Owl wrote:

    On the one hand, in the old newspaper media there was a maxim which asserted "If it bleeds, it leads"
    asserting that violence (with pictures if possible) was the best business model 50 years ago . . . and today we have a similar conditioned-reflex attitude on the part of Media Editors. Consider the Weather Channel as "Exhibit B." They constantly hype "deadly" storms & emphasize potential violence in our skies hourly, no matter how much sun shines: "Tornado film at 9:00!" "last month's hurricane at 10:00!" and "landslides at 11:00!" (since when are landslides & earthquakes "weather"?) Alas, we do watch; they know that and the pandering will go on and on. Sigh.

  2. [2] 
    akadjian wrote:

    On a related theme, this is the funniest thing I've seen in a long time. Hari Kondabolu is campaigning to change the Redskins logo to a sunburnt white guy if they keep the name

  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    akadjian -

    Funniest thing I've seen in a long time...

    but then I have a strange sense of humor. I'll check the Redskins video out, but I'm going to try to get through some comments here.

    I apologize for taking a week off from answering these. First, I had to get my taxes done by 10/15, then I've been putting together an author interview/book review that'll likely run after the election, and I'm working on some behind-the-scenes code fixes with the site, so time's been kinda tight.

    Anyway, check out that comic. Music lovers (of the 1960s-70s variety) should find it hilarious...



  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Oh, hey, and baseball fans, this is pretty darn funny, too. Never seen anyone have so much fun with a first pitch. This was from the Giants-Nationals postseason game this year that went to 18 innings (a record).


  5. [5] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    OK, just for everyone's information:

    I have answered comments back to last Monday, so go check them out to see. Well, except for that Ebolapalooza article, didn't get all the way through those comments, have to finish tomorrow.

    Good game tonight, eh?

    Go Giants!


    The city's new motto just may become: "Every two years!!!"



  6. [6] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    akadjian -

    OK,that WAS funny! I especially liked the "That 70s Show" version: Reds Kins



  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    I wanted to bring a comment from the last Ebola commentary forward since it's relevant...

    If the tables had been turned, politically, in this election, Republicans would be howling that Democrats had invented Ebola and imported it for their own nefarious political reasons. Admit it: you know the crazies on the right would be making such claims, if the positions were reversed.

    To date, no Democrats or anyone on the Left has made such a claim. Even if it does turn out to be an effective October Surprise for Republicans. Because the Left just isn't that crazy.


    The White Man Created Ebola To Kill Black People, Says Noted Scientist Louis Farrakhan

    Left Wing crazies are just as crazy as Right Wing crazies... :D


  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    The outbreak in Nigeria happened when a diplomat from Liberia arrived and collapsed at the Lagos airport. Both the airport and the hospital he was taken to were unprepared (this happened July 20, for perspective). But the key factor was the hospital refused to let him leave -- even after he raised a stink and tried to use his diplomatic status to place himself above medicine and above any sort of law. He failed (physical restraints became necessary) even though the Liberian government stated at the time that holding him was tantamount to kidnapping.

    So, in other words, his movement was curtailed and that's what saved Nigeria...

    And what does Closed Borders do??

    Closed Borders curtail movement to prevent spread of the disease...


  9. [9] 
    TheStig wrote:

    M (8)

    When you say you say close the borders, do you really mean all inbound travel, or just travelers from certain locations? If the latter, how do prevent cross contamination via travel across foreign borders you can't police. If you do mean closed to everybody, doesn't that amount to a self imposed blockade? History shows blockade to be one the best ways to bring an economy to its knees, even though all blockades are porous to some degree. Sieges are often associated with epidemics - deprivation makes populations more vulnerable to disease. Closing your borders strikes me as similar to committing suicide to avoid being killed.

    What you want is a manageable, layered defense. Screen people at the border for signs of disease. Quarantine those who show signs. Use your public health infrastructure to do the same to your own citizens. Inoculate your citizens if the means exist. Manage disease reservoirs outside the human population. Stress proper sanitation - there is no risk if there is no exposure.

  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:


    What I mean is that borders be secured and traffic only allowed thru designated crossing points..

    Crossing points where checks can be done and monitoring can be accomplished..

    In other words, CLOSE the border that Obama and the Democrats opened..

    It ain't rocket science...

    It's common sense..


  11. [11] 
    Michale wrote:


    You mentioned something about Democrats not being crazy??

    "If ebola comes to #tennessee our failure to have expanded #medicaid will cause much greater epidemic as uninsured wont get diagnosed early."
    -Steve Cohen D Tennessee

    I beg to differ.. :D

    Crazy fear-mongering at it's finest...


  12. [12] 
    TheStig wrote:

    It's common sense..

    Yes, but none of the countries in the Liberia - Sierra - Leone Guinea have the political or economic means to implement the common sense measures. Especially policing the borders.

    It could be worse. People with Ebola who are highly contagious high virus load stages are usually too sick to travel. If that weren't so, Africa would have looked like Black Death Europe decades ago.

  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:

    Yes, but none of the countries in the Liberia - Sierra - Leone Guinea have the political or economic means to implement the common sense measures. Especially policing the borders.


    Because they can't, we shouldn't so as not to make them feel bad???


  14. [14] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale [10] -

    That guy in Dallas snuck across the southern border? News to me. I thought he flew in on an airplane, which is what we're talking about here. I mean, your comment is just divorced from reality. When you can come up with a headline "Ebola patient sneaks across border" or for that matter an old one saying "Dems and Obama announce open border" then I'll listen to such nonsense, but not before, sorry.

    [11] -

    That statement is 100% accurate. What's fear-mongering about it? Fear-mongering is "ISIS is going to send Ebola-infected people across our southern border! AAAAHHH! Everybody run!"

    See the title of this article, please.

    If Medicaid expansion doesn't exist, uninsured people are not going to go to the hospital. That's pretty much of a fact. The Texas guy who died was uninsured, and he was turned away initially. Texas could have told the nurse not to travel to Ohio, but they didn't (she didn't actually contact the CDC, she contacted "Texas public health officials" who told her it was OK to fly).

    Michale [13] -

    Please go back and re-read Friday's column. HOW do you want a "travel ban" implemented? That's the question nobody calling for one can answer. Every answer is simply not sufficient to stop disease at the border. What Obama is doing right now has a MUCH higher chance of success, because people are still volutarily admitting that they've travelled to the infected countries. If there's a travel ban, people will stop admitting this and they'll be impossible to track. What are you going to do -- stop all flights from Europe? Then people will start travelling elsewhere to change planes. Stop all flights from everywhere?

    Seriously, those calling for a travel ban can never answer what exactly we should do. Except poop our pants and panic.

    Home of the brave? Hardly.


  15. [15] 
    Michale wrote:

    I completely agree with you on the travel ban and said as much...

    But the logic against a travel ban falls completely apart when we are talking about closing the border..


  16. [16] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    Maybe, but my larger point is that nobody's talking about the border except for Republicans trying to make some political hay out of unjustified fearmongering.

    Again: see the title of this article. Why are all the "American exceptionalists" so terrified of something that HASN'T EVEN HAPPENED? Whatever happened to the "land of the brave" being PART of that American exceptionalism? You're seriously thinking "We're not as good as Nigeria"? That's not very exceptional, is it?

    I seem to remember you taking exception to Obama not being sufficiently "American exceptionalistic" in the past, at the drop of a hat, in fact. And now you're saying our public health system ranks below Nigeria's? I can just imagine what you would have said a few months ago if President Obama had made a statement like that....


  17. [17] 
    TheStig wrote:


    "Because they can't, we shouldn't so as not to make them feel bad???"

    As Yoda put it, "Their is no try, only do." They have no do. Events will play out long before they get do. This situation is called a non-starter.

    There was a joke that circulated in North Vietnam during the war. The North would ask the Soviets for more aid. The Soviets would reply, "tighten your belts." The North would cable back "please send belts."

  18. [18] 
    Michale wrote:

    There was a joke that circulated in North Vietnam during the war. The North would ask the Soviets for more aid. The Soviets would reply, "tighten your belts." The North would cable back "please send belts."

    Now THAT's funny! :D


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