06 June 2009 - Let’s Help Media Get it Right

I’m really concerned that I’m going to have to start taking blood pressure medicine if my fellow journalists don’t start practicing accuracy in dealing with the H1N1 flu virus. Every time I see a television news story about “swine” flu illustrated with video of hogs on a Midwest farm, my blood pressure goes right through the roof. And you know I’m not alone; as a matter of fact, talking to pork producers I know that it does the same to you and it’s so frustrating that we don’t seem to be able to do anything about it. Newspaper writers, radio and TV reporters continue to refer to it as swine flu even though there is no connection between eating pork and getting H1N1. The World Health Organization, the U. S. Department of Agriculture, the Center for Disease Control have all issued statements saying it is not “swine” flu, it is H1N1 Flu Virus.

Someone else who feels as strongly as we do is Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. At a farmer forum in Illinois recently, the Secretary was asked about it by a young FFA member who said she and her family were pork producers and she wondered what they could do to get media to deal accurately with H1N1. The Secretary’s response was so strong that we carried it on our TV show, This Week in AgriBusiness, and I want to share it with you.

Secretary Vilsack said “It is so irritating when you read the paper, when you watch on television, and they continue to refer to it as “swine” flu. Because what they don’t realize; what that good-looking, handsome, well-coiffured talking head on the television doesn’t understand is there is a hard working family whose livelihood depends on him or her getting it right. They don’t understand that we saw as much as a 3/4-billion- dollar potential hit to the pork industry because other countries made the decision, without science, without basis in science, of saying ‘We don’t want your pork products’.”

The Secretary was as frustrated by the inaccuracy of the media as the rest of us and I appreciate his strong words of support. As a journalist, I am always concerned about being accurate when I report a story and I don’t understand why my fellow journalists ignore accuracy on this story.

Now, I do have a suggestion for that Illinois FFA member and the rest of us who see the financial impact of the “swine flu” reference on pork producers. Every time you see or hear swine flu in a story, fire off an e-mail or note to the editor or news director and suggest, in the interest of accurate reporting, they call it what it is, H1N1 Flu Virus, not swine flu. It will just take a moment, but I think it is time well-spent.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.