Have you noticed that, in the past few weeks, the mainstream media has stopped reporting on suspected cases of Ebola in the United States? That’s because they’ve been asked not to do so — at least until those suspected of having the virus test positive for it with a lab test. The implication is that the mainstream media — The Associated Press in particular — was asked to refrain from reporting on the suspected cases by the Obama Administration.
If so, that is far from the only example of federal government duplicity in dealing with pandemics and potential pandemics. As Washington’s Blog notes, citing a National Institutes of Health (NIH) report from 2005 called, “The Threat of Pandemic Influenza: Are We Ready?,” the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak that killed 50 million people worldwide was mishandled badly by our government, and governments around the world.
The context of the outbreak is very noteworthy. The year, 1918, was the final year of World War I, a near-global conflict concentrated largely in Europe and the Near East which decimated entire populations and after which 37 million were dead, wounded or missing (not including civilian deaths). Entire cities laid in ruin; local and national economies were in a shambles.
‘The first casualty is truth’
According to the NIH report:
In the United States, national and local government and public health authorities badly mishandled the [1918 Spanish Flu] epidemic [which killed up to 50 million people worldwide], offering a useful case study. …
Every country engaged in World War I tried to control public perception. To avoid hurting morale, even in the nonlethal first wave the press in countries fighting in the war did not mention the outbreak. (But Spain was not at war and its press wrote about it, so the pandemic became known as the Spanish flu).
The United States was no different. In 1917, California Senator Hiram Johnson, an isolationist Progressive-Party-member-turned-Republican, stated: “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” At the time, Congress passed a measure, signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson, that made it punishable by up to 20 years in prison to “utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the government of the United States” — a blatant violation of the First Amendment’s free speech protections.
“One could go to jail for cursing or criticizing the government, even if what one said was true,” the NIH report said, noting that even a U.S. congressman was eventually put in jail for violating the law.
At the same time, the federal government launched a huge propaganda effort, which prompted one of the architects of it to remark, “Truth and falsehood are arbitrary terms…. There is nothing in experience to tell us that one is always preferable to the other…. The force of an idea lies in its inspirational value. It matters very little if it is true or false.”
As reported by Washington’s Blog, the NIH report further stated:
The combination of rigid control and disregard for truth had dangerous consequences. Focusing on the shortest term, local officials almost universally told half-truths or outright lies to avoid damaging morale and the war effort. They were assisted–not challenged–by the press, which although not censored in a technical sense cooperated fully with the government’s propaganda machine.
(Much like the press does today.)
Pattern was repeated in city after city
The result was that, as the Spanish Flu approached a city or town — “one could watch it march from place to place” — local officials initially advised the public not to be concerned, because public health officials would ensure that the town was protected from the virus.
When influenza appeared, officials almost always insisted it was the regular flu, not the feared and deadly Spanish Flu. And as the outbreak worsened, officials would advise the public, nearly every day, that the worst of it was past.
That pattern was repeated over and over again. Chicago is a case in point; the city’s public health commissioner said he would do “nothing to interfere with the morale of the community…. It is our duty to keep the people from fear. Worry kills more people than the epidemic.”
And that notion (“Fear kills more than the disease”) became the national mantra, in city after city.
Is the same pattern still being repeated, this time with the Ebola virus?
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