CNN Perplexed by Calm U.S. Public

"We’ve fanned the flames of fear about this stuff," said CNN’s Jack Cafferty on March 18. He was talking about bird flu, and his admission just confirmed the Free Market Project’s ongoing analysis of media coverage.

The "In the Money" co-host’s comments came as the show’s panel looked at "Stock of the Week" Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN), which has seen a 20-percent loss in value recently from overseas bird flu scares. Co-host Jennifer Westhoven marveled at the American public’s apparent nonchalance about the H5N1 avian flu virus.

"I’m amazed that Americans at this point are really fairly unconcerned" about bird flu and mad cow disease, the Bryn Mawr alumna confessed, noting that a drop in foreign sales of Tyson chicken has depressed company stock.

While the National Chicken Council stresses that American poultry is safe to eat, the CNN anchors failed to remind viewers of that fact. Guest panelist Allen Wastler urged investors to wait until Tyson stock "pounds down a little bit more" before snatching up cheaper shares, "because people always eat meat."

While Cafferty conceded that "bird flu has killed fewer than 100 people in the world in the last three years," he warned "that’s not to say it couldn’t change tomorrow."

Yet the virus has not mutated to allow easy human-to-human transmission, which would be necessary for a worst-case scenario global pandemic.

In fact, only in "rare circumstances" that are "highly unusual in developed countries and unusual even in undeveloped ones" has the avian virus transferred from birds to humans, wrote Dr. Elizabeth Whelan of the American Council on Science and Health in a Free Market Project commentary.

The Free Market Project has documented the media’s hype of the bird flu threat, particularly CNN, which featured Columbia University’s Irwin Redlener blaring warnings of a global pandemic yielding thousands of "typhoid Marys" in a country with "46 million Americans who don’t have health insurance."

CNN is hardly the media’s lone pandemic pyromaniac. ABC also "fanned the flames" of bird flu fear in a recent series on "Good Morning America" and "World News Tonight." Experts like Whelan have been left out of much of the media coverage.