A Timeline Of Media-Inflamed Fears (2000-2017)

Modern media does not always have the best reputation for providing complex and nuanced commentary.

The news cycle is sensational enough when we’re dealing with the regular issues of the day. But, as Visual Capitalist's Jeff Desjardins notes, add in some uncertainty and urgency – such as when the world is dealing with an outbreak like SARS, Mad Cow Disease, Ebola, or even Y2K – and each headline seems to get more provocative or speculative than the last.

Today’s graphics come to us from Information is Beautiful, and they show the intensity of news mentions for different topics that stoked frenzies in the media from 2000-2017.

Courtesy of Visual Capitalist


We all make mistakes, but headlines for Ebola brought a new level of hyperbole to the table.

“Ebola in the air? A nightmare that could happen” – CNN (link)

“New Ebola Cases May Soon Reach 10,000 a Week, Officials Predict” – NYT (link)

“Ebola as ISIS Bio-Weapon?” – Forbes (link)

In fact, the outbreak in 2014 goes down as the most sensationalized events in the last 17 years.

Here’s all other topics scaled to match Ebola mentions (which go “off the page” in the first graph):

Nothing is even close.

By the way, it turned out that Ebola didn’t mutate into a scary airborne virus. The CNN article with the crazy headline even admits in the body of the article itself: “Speculation that Ebola virus disease might mutate into a form that could easily spread among humans through the air is just that: speculation, unsubstantiated by any evidence.”

Meanwhile, Ebola cases hit a maximum rate of 6,987 in a month, mainly because of delayed reporting of older cases in Liberia. Regardless, that is just 17% of the predicted “10,000 cases per week” rate reported in a New York Times headline.

Finally, as you’re probably aware: ISIS did not weaponize Ebola, either. Made for good clickbait, though.


When we scale the data to match total deaths, the sensationalism of many of the outbreaks is even clearer:

The death count for Ebola did eventually hit 11,310 globally, and Swine Flu resulted in 18,500 lab-confirmed deaths (and potentially many more). However, most of these outbreaks were relatively harmless in relative terms. The Zika Virus, for example, resulted in only a handful of deaths.

While having zero deaths is certainly the ideal, and many of the issues above should be taken very seriously especially as stories develop, we should be careful not to blow things out of proportion. Making mountains out of molehills does not help anyone, and it adds to growing distrust of media in general.




Lore vaporland Wed, 07/11/2018 - 02:06 Permalink

None of these "fear inflamers" compare to the manipulative "Global Warming" hype-fest of the 1990s and early 2000s, still pervasive to this day. 

Apparently, the biggest controlled-media boondoggles don't even bear consideration.

When you tell a lie, tell big lies... In the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility... In the primitive simplicity of [the mind of the masses] they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying. - Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1926, p. 472

In reply to by vaporland

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LittleMaestro Wed, 07/11/2018 - 01:18 Permalink

Pot, kettle, black.

Come on Z-H. I've been drawn into your end of the world drama and apocalyptic forecasts for 9 years now. It's been a great run and I enjoy the articles. But seriously, man, you're not going to write an alarmist article about alarmist articles, are you?

jmack Wed, 07/11/2018 - 01:31 Permalink

The media psy-ops used to be effective, but everyone is immune to their bull shit now, the counter media antibodies have had their effect. The incessant caterwauling has had its effect as well. Calling every one hitler, nazi, racist, has had its effect.


    You can talk about fiat money, but it pales in comparison to the fake media and its lack of effect due to over use. 

H H Henry P P … Wed, 07/11/2018 - 01:40 Permalink

I remember the media talking about the Hindenberg Omen around 2012 or 2013.  When Glenn Beck had an entire segment dedicated to it, it was clear the markets would make huge gains afterwards.

SwaziRed Wed, 07/11/2018 - 01:57 Permalink

Which is why the good folks at ZH would never dream of posting the grim fire and brimstone prognostications of deranged lunatic Paul Craig (Michael George Peter Ferdinand Archibald) Roberts on a regular basis. Right?

fulliautomatix Yen Cross Wed, 07/11/2018 - 03:43 Permalink

Maybe? If you look at flash crashes a s a true indication of how sentiment changes, then note that these have been largely engineered out of the system, then the probability of sentiment changing is lower. When you add in the fact that the concentration of wealth means that the bulk of the market is controlled by few entities whose interest is in fleecing the shorts, maybe not.

In reply to by Yen Cross

fulliautomatix Wed, 07/11/2018 - 03:07 Permalink

Area under the graph is directly proportional to words written and revenue occurring thereby. Where you can generate a feedback loop of fear, you can manipulate your market to accommodate your needs. What's to understand? 

You could take the analysis further and posit that this why the politics of fear don't work in the longer term - trust in the boy who cried wolf is now legislated.

Let it Go Wed, 07/11/2018 - 07:55 Permalink

Oh, the irony of it all as mainstream media and politicians rush to blame social media for our cultural woes. Currently, Facebook faces multiple investigations to find out just how far over the line they went in abusing the trust of those with accounts and information posted on Facebook.

 Just as unsettling is the alliances companies like Amazon have made with the government and the big contract their cloud division, Amazon Web Services, has with the CIA. In the case of Amazon the fact its CEO also owns the Washington Post, America's most influential newspaper, should send shivers down the back of those believing in freedom and limited government.

Governments, corrupt politicians, the media, fools and clowns, all vying for our attention. The source of much of the polarization we face may, in fact, flow from the same mainstream media that is almost giddy over the problems Facebook has created by playing fast and loose with data from its followers. More on this subject below.

http://Media And Politicians Rush To Blame Social Media.html

JBL Wed, 07/11/2018 - 08:10 Permalink

seems like the free press is a conduit for pharmaceutical companies to insight fear into the population to get vaccinated

surf@jm Wed, 07/11/2018 - 08:38 Permalink

Media hornblowers jobs are to spoon feed morons bullshit to sell commercials....

I always found it ironic, the idiots who think that the talking heads in the news, are telling the truth, but only the commercial breaks are spewing snake oil....yeah, right...LMAO!.....


BocceBaal Wed, 07/11/2018 - 09:38 Permalink

At some point there's going to be another pandemic like the 1918 Spanish Flu that will kill tens or hundreds of millions. With air travel it will spread far more quickly. We're lucky it hasn't happened yet.