Swine Flu Media Coverage Ignites Racist Hysteria, Ignores Possible Causes

by on April 28, 2009 · 16 comments

in Environment, Health, Media, World News

It’s been impossible to ignore the media hysteria over the past few days in response to reported outbreaks of the newest variant of the influenza virus. The talking heads and frantic graphic displays on television news have raised the fine art of 24 hour video fear mongering to new levels.

While there is certainly some cause for concern over the latest reports, placing this information in a realistic context is apparently beyond the capabilities of most of these so-called “news” organizations. And while they’re busy scaring the crap out you, they are ignoring aspects of this story that should merit further investigation.

“Swine” flu has been documented as occurring in humans since 1988, according to the Center for Disease Control. While the cases of this newest virus occurring in the US have thus far been relatively mild, the regular, garden-variety influenza was responsible for over 35,000 deaths last year. As you see and hear the television hysteria about swine flu, it might also be worthwhile to point out that, in 2006, there were 13,000 documented domestic cases of tuberculosis and 644 deaths from that disease.

Scientists and health care authorities are concerned because the latest outbreaks are being caused by a hybrid variant that draws genetic material from four difference sources: avian and swine viruses from North America, a swine flu strain normally found in Asia and a human influenza strain. Researchers have long feared that a hybrid flu strain could induce a pandemic. However, despite raising the “threat level”, the World Health Organization and the CDC have issued no warnings that would indicate a pandemic is imminent.

The mighty pundits of the Right, however, have been all over this story, using the media induced frenzy to blame illegal immigrants and even President Obama’s recent trip to Mexico for the flu’s spread to the US. Conservative radio talk show host Michael Savage told his audience, “Make no mistake about it: Illegal aliens are the carriers of the new strain of human-swine avian from Mexico.”

Talk radio’s Neal Boortz (and others) has been spreading speculation that the latest outbreak may actually be a bio-terrorism attack, “What better way to sneak a virus into this country than give it to the Mexicans? I mean, one out every 10 people born in Mexico is already living up here, and the rest are trying to get here.”

The San Diego Union Tribune, while decrying the immigrant bashing, seized the opportunity to be critical of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, while ignoring the fact that the position of Health and Human Services Secretary remained unfilled for many months, thanks to GOP opposition based on the nominee’s support for abortion rights.

Meanwhile, questions relating to how the current outbreak started have been under-reported in the media. Mexican newspapers have been running stories pointing to a pig farming operation partially owned by meat megalith Smithfield as the original source of the infections. Residents in La Gloria, a town of 3,000 located in Veracruz State, are blaming widespread respiratory infections caused by contamination spread by pig waste on a factory farm located five miles upwind. Dating back to February, 1600 villagers have been treated for symptoms including fever, severe coughs and large amounts of phlegm. Company officials deny any connection with the outbreak, but local health officials have initiated an epidemiological investigation focusing on any cases exhibiting symptoms since March 10th.

Smithfield has expanded its overseas operations in recent years in the wake of increasing domestic regulation aimed at curbing toxic pollutants that are by-products of its industrial farming operations. A 2006 story in Rolling Stone described a Smithfield North Carolina operation:

A lot of pig shit is one thing; a lot of highly toxic pig shit is another. The excrement of Smithfield hogs is hardly even pig shit: On a continuum of pollutants, it is probably closer to radioactive waste than to organic manure. The reason it is so toxic is Smithfield‘s efficiency. The company produces 6 billion pounds of packaged pork each year. That’s a remarkable achievement, a prolificacy unimagined only two decades ago, and the only way to do it is to raise pigs in astonishing, unprecedented concentrations.

Last year a Pew Research Center commission on industrial farm animal production reported on the dangers involved:

“the continual cycling of viruses…in large herds or flocks (will) increase opportunities for the generation of novel viruses through mutation or recombinant events that could result in more efficient human to human transmission.”

The commission also claimed that they had been systemically obstructed in their research efforts by corporations, including threats to withhold funding. Previous flu pandemics dating back to 1918 have been traced to large numbers of people being in proximity to birds and pigs. Certainly the relationship between industrial animal production and this current outbreak merits further investigation.

The stimulus bill passed back in February originally contained language that would have allocated either $420 million (House bill) or $870 million (Senate bill) that could be used for “the development and purchase of vaccine, antivirals, necessary medical supplies, diagnostics and other surveillance tools” for pandemic influenza. The funding could also be used for the construction or renovation of private facilities producing vaccines. But these monies failed to make it past Republican Senator Susan Collins, who deemed it unnecessary pork. Such funding could have been available for production of the newly discovered anti-bodies that could lead to far more effective antiviral drugs than Tamiflu and others currently on the market.

Finally, just in time for supposedly upcoming pandemic, a conservative group is launching a $1 million ad buy this week designed to tap into fears about the U.S. moving toward a nationalized system of health care. Conservatives for Patient Rights will run a month of 60-second ads on CNN and Fox News that feature doctors from Britain and Canada describing the pitfalls of their nations’ health care.

Yet another reason we’re supposed to be afraid of getting sick.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

jon April 28, 2009 at 2:21 pm

FEAR is the only weapon these guys have left. I think we’re pretty fed up with being told to be afraid. That’s not the American way.

Thanks for this piece Doug.


nunya April 28, 2009 at 4:40 pm

“But these monies failed to make it past Republican Senator Susan Collins, who deemed it unnecessary pork”

LOL, thanks for that, I needed a laugh. I am so not freaked out by this. I just saw a WHO doctor say that travel restrictions will not work, so they’re not imposing them. Kind of makes you wonder why it’s all over the news, eh?


jon April 28, 2009 at 6:57 pm

I’ll bet she wishes she used a different analogy. In (r)hind sight! ahaha…i kill me.


mr fresh April 28, 2009 at 9:42 pm

GOP leader Mike Steele on why the GOP fought the inclusion of pandemic preparedness funds:

“Why should you try to be ready for something when you don’t know it will happen?”


Dave Gilbert April 28, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Wow, factory farming in a 3rd world country? It’s hard to believe that anything bad could EVER come from that….

Please make sure you do wash your hands though folks, except of course for Susan Collins who probably deems that as unnecessary too! ;P


Gary Gilmore April 29, 2009 at 8:18 am

Thank you Doug! It’s about time someone reported this minus the hysteria. IT’S THE FLU for crying out loud. From the media reports I have read, watched and heard I figured swine flu was a death sentence…. “Dear Radio Talk Guy, I just saw a Mexican who sneezed. When can I expect to die?” Oh Brother… give me a break. This is BY FAR the best report on this topic that I have read. Thanks.


Doug Porter April 30, 2009 at 10:11 am

check out this video on the right wing fear mongers:



lane tobias April 30, 2009 at 10:27 am

All the media coverage has become a cover for conservative talkies’ racist propoganda, you nailed it right on the head. What is most disturbing about all of this, to me, is that it has completely engulfed the mainstream media. In a few years when people start to build up resistance, nobody will remember anything about it – mostly because not enough white people are dying.


jon April 30, 2009 at 10:42 am

Ugh. I just threw-up all over my keyboard. And it ain’t from Swine Flu! I think rather than some ridiculous racist name like Mexican Flu, we should start calling this “Smithfield Flu.” Because I’m pretty sure it’s gonna come out that the Smithfield farm is largely responsible for killing hundreds of Mexican citizens while trying to save a buck and avoid US labor and environmental regulations.


Dave Gilbert April 30, 2009 at 1:13 pm

I personally don’t eat Pork, but that’s because pigs are as smart as dogs, but they’ve changed the name from Swine to H1N1.

Hmmm, I was hoping that pigs worldwide might get a reprieve from being on the menu…at least for a little while anyway.



nunya April 30, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Panic, hysteria and racism for what?

8 Confirmed total deaths worldwide, according to the WHO website. Another media hyped non-event.

36,000 in this country and up to 500,000 people around the world a year die of some type of flu.

The real swine lobby congress to NOT change the immigration laws into something that makes sense for Americans and immigrants who want to be come Americans alike.


doug porter May 1, 2009 at 3:03 pm

BREAKING NEWS: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/01/swine-flu-may-have-evolve_n_194404.html

the swine flu started in the u.s.? what will the wingbats do now?


mr fresh May 2, 2009 at 4:49 pm

We have some more tentatively encouraging news emerging about the Swine Flu virus.

Yesterday, we noted that the Mexican government had substantially revised downward the number of deaths attributed to the Swine Flu, from 159 to 84, after tests had ruled out many of the suspected cases.

Now comes word from the Times that Mexican officials have now reported that of the 908 suspected cases that have now been tested, only 397 turned out to have suffered from the Swine Flu.

Finally, there appears to be some clinical evidence suggesting that people over 60 may have some immunity to the virus.

–Josh Marshall Talking Points Memo


bodysurferbob May 3, 2009 at 3:23 pm

good job, doug dude!


George Fulmore May 4, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Sorry. Here’s the link:


George Fulmore May 4, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Here’s a link to a 2006 expose in Mother Jones on Smithfield and its operations. To blame Mexico for all this is really wrong. The truth appears to be closer to pinning the blame on the pig farm essentially owned by an American company. “Poor Mexico. So far from God, and so close to the United States.”


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