Anthrax: the new shark attack?
October 29, 2001 12:57 PM   Subscribe

Anthrax: the new shark attack? In all the sensationalist reporting on the anthrax-by-mail attacks, the fact that anthrax affects more than 2,000 people world-wide annually. Does all this coverage remind anyone else of the frenzy surrounding shark attacks this summer?
posted by me3dia (23 comments total)
This may be a double post, but I figured the numbers made it worthwhile.

I've overheard people saying that when they were growing up in cow country, people would get anthrax and just see the local doc, who would give them antibiotics and send them on their way. Do we really need to be this frightened by something that can be treated so easily? I'm more afraid of meningitis.
posted by me3dia at 1:00 PM on October 29, 2001

Oh, do the Supreme Court, Congress, the White House, and all major TV networks get attacked with anthrax every year? I wasn't aware of that.
posted by Ben Grimm at 1:09 PM on October 29, 2001

Denny Hastert had his arm torn off by a shark last summer, though, and no one paid any attention. (Bad-dum. Crash.) Sorry.
posted by raysmj at 1:12 PM on October 29, 2001

I'm giving a hundred bucks to everyybody I know who gets Anthrax. Now they're actively seeking it out...
posted by websavvy at 1:17 PM on October 29, 2001

The Supreme Court, Congress and the White House weren't attacked with anthrax, some residual spores (probably from the Daschle letter) were found in mail facilities that served them.

Would the anthrax scare have been as intense as it was if letters were sent to random american residents instead of Big Important People?
posted by andnbsp at 1:17 PM on October 29, 2001

Say, Ben, sarcasm's the perfect way to begin a conversation!!!

This story is news for two reasons:

1) Everyone's on edge and terrified that another fucking plane will slam into a building or that the wrath of God will come down on them somehow, and the media are of course well aware of this now horribly unsettling fear in the American populace and are playing to that. The fact that the US government is being mailed anthrax, and that a few people have died from it, yes, that's news. The full-borne panic that's engulfing our friends in the news media and filtering down into the general public? That's pandering, and there's nothing that the media does better than that. It's local news syndrome on a national scale. "Very important government officials have been mailed anthrax! Could it happen to you? Stay tuned!!!"

2) The media needs something to fill all those programming hours and justify all those salaries. The shark attacks, the flesh-eating strep virus from a few years back, the baby in the well - all these "major" news stories are the result of slow news days.

"But targeted anthrax strikes are a major news story!" Again, true, but the criminally irresponsible reporting and panic-building that the media are engaging in right now is not the objective journalism we think we should be getting, but it's a bunch of reporters jockeying for air time. I'd bet that Rick Sanchez of MSNBC (I pick on him because I've hated him ever since he was a scumfuck anchor in South Florida - grrrrr!) is plotting how he can use his new face time to get his own show on the network or maybe get off basic cable to a correspondent position on Brokaw's show.

24-hour news channels have 24 hours a day to fill. And when you think about the anthrax stories, there's really nothing to report except that either people are sick, a new envelope was found, or someone died. That may seem like a lot, but it's not. So "experts" are called in, mouthpieces given air time, and the whole import of a story inflated out of proportion so that there's something that people feel they just have to watch so the advertisers keep paying.
posted by solistrato at 1:21 PM on October 29, 2001

I'm not saying that the anthrax in Washington, NYC and Florida wasn't a malicious, terrorist attack. But the response seems more generated by the mythological place anthrax has assumed than with the realities of the bacteria. If someone had sent bacterial meningitis or the flesh-eating strain of influenza to the Capital, there'd be a much higher death toll but a lot less mystery about what was going on.

By the way, no one is sure that the anthrax at the White House and Supreme Court building is not residual from the original "Daschle Letter." Considering how throughly contaminated the postal centers that processed that letter, who knows how many other offices will show up with contamination.
posted by me3dia at 1:23 PM on October 29, 2001

I agree with Ben that the current situation is a bit more newsworthy than the hundreds of cases of anthrax that occur each year because this is a deliberate biological attack. However, I am also going to have to agree with Me3dia, and say that I think the Anthrax attacks are a lot like the shark attacks, in that they are receiving an inordinate amount of news coverage. Our country is at war, and slipping into what could be a major recession, and all that I see on CNN are contant anthrax updates. Three deaths are tragic, but don't require 24 hour news coverage.
posted by Doug at 1:23 PM on October 29, 2001

Would the anthrax scare have been as intense as it was if letters were sent to random american residents instead of Big Important People?

I think this was posed rhetorically, but, seriously, are people so afraid because they're afraid for our country's leaders, or are they afraid for themselves? E.g., why is everyone stocking Cipro?

The flu kills 10,000+ every year in the U.S. alone (if I remember right), and is far harder to treat, but people don't even bother to get flu shots. Go figure.

(Just saw solistrado's take; sounds about right to me.)
posted by mattpfeff at 1:25 PM on October 29, 2001

Thank you, Solistrato, for writing the rant I would have written if I had the time right now. And yes, Doug, that's exactly why I posted this.
posted by me3dia at 1:28 PM on October 29, 2001

uncle bob thinks they're related.

levity aside, i agree with solistrato.
posted by sugarfish at 1:34 PM on October 29, 2001

I've vocalized shared sentiments! GO ME!
posted by solistrato at 1:38 PM on October 29, 2001

Stephen Fried's letter to Romanesko MediaNews makes Cipro sound almost as bad as a shark bite (scroll down to read).
posted by Carol Anne at 1:46 PM on October 29, 2001

Good God, Carol Anne, that's worthy of front pageness. So why the hell is Cipro being prescribed again?
posted by solistrato at 2:13 PM on October 29, 2001

On today's Talk of the Nation a caller asked why the media kept jumping up and down and screaming "DON'T PANIC!!" when it seemed clear that your average person was not panicking.

I think Neal Conan countered with the thought that it was the media who was panicking themselves since all this was happening in their offices to people that they know. Definitely something to consider.

I find that better news reporting exists beyond page 4 of your own newspaper. That's where important stories go that don't sell on shock. Get off your teevee.
posted by amanda at 2:26 PM on October 29, 2001

"7) There is another set of unusual adverse reactions to these drugs involving spontaneous tendon rupture: there are cases of people just sitting drinking their coffee in the morning and then, pop, their achilles tendon ruptures."

Ouch. It makes me wince just to read that.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:40 PM on October 29, 2001

m3edia & others: Remember that the common cutaneous anthrax (aka "woolsorter's disease" and other similar monikers) is easily treated. But several of these attacks have succeeded in inhalation anthrax infection, which is much more serious -- and indeed, as we have seen, deadly.

We don't need to go off half-cocked, all of us wearing latex gloves etc., but it would be prudent to watch your symptoms if you have a mail-related job. And this is definitely serious terrorism.
posted by dhartung at 2:48 PM on October 29, 2001

You know what's the scariest thing on earth?
Sharks with anthrax.
posted by Grum at 3:06 PM on October 29, 2001

Dhartung: I don't think anyone's denying that this story isn't important, or that the people who have contracted anthrax aren't worth noticing. I think what's getting most people is this onslaught of forced paranoia. Unless you're in government service, mail delivery and handling, or you work for the major media, you are safe.

Now granted, I can understand why media pros would feel understandably rattled that someone was specifically targeting them. But their job isn't to inflict their own fears and worries on people - on a lot of people. Their entire job is to define the thoughts and feelings of the country. For them to take a targeted terrorist attack against media outlets and government offices and turn it into the broad no-shades-of-grey "America Under Attack" - the clear implication being that it could happen to you, to your children as they oh-so-innocently trick-or-treat, so be afraid - is not merely bad reporting, but actually falls under Oliver Wendell Holmes' famous example of shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. It's inciting a panic.

And since their goal is not to inform, but to make you watch television so you see the commercials and then go buy stuff - since, in effect, their goal is financial - they're just con men and thieves.

And so I despise in my little cell, with my fellow Brownshirts, but soon, soon, they'll all pay, oh yes, they'll all pay... *cackle, rub hands, drool*
posted by solistrato at 3:12 PM on October 29, 2001

You know what these anthrax stories are making people act like? They're making people act like big....

posted by Doug at 3:35 PM on October 29, 2001

Grum, one news story I heard said that on some of the envelopes, the FBI found traces of saltwater. They're now investigating the possibility that the anthrax filled letters were, in fact, mailed by sharks.

Coincidence the first attack was in Florida?
posted by Doug at 3:37 PM on October 29, 2001

I thought it was just media hype, until I read this:

"In the United States, the annual incidence of human anthrax has declined from approximately 130 cases annually in the early 1900s to no cases during 1993--2000. The last confirmed case of human anthrax reported in the United States was a cutaneous case reported in 1992. Most cases reported in the United States have been cutaneous; during the 20th century, only 18 cases of inhalation anthrax were reported, the most recent in 1976 (7). Of the 18 cases of inhalation anthrax reported in the United States since 1950, two occurred in laboratory workers. No gastrointestinal cases have been reported in the United States. "

posted by johnjreeve at 4:37 PM on October 29, 2001

When Anthrax-Infected Fundamentalist Sharks Hijack Airliners : Volume 3 : Too Hot For TV

Coming to a Blockbuster near you.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:33 AM on October 30, 2001

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