Illustration Shows Western Media Bias on Ebola Coverage
The Ebola epidemic has killed 3,865 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia; it has killed one in the United States. Until American doctors treating patients with Ebola in West Africa were diagnosed with the disease, the current Ebola outbreak has been largely faceless, mainly about statistics and if and when the virus would spread to American soil. A new illustration from frequent Vanity Fair contributor André Carrilho puts this western media bias into perspective
André Carrilho, an illustrator and cartoonist based in Lisbon whose work has appeared in the New York Times
, the New Yorker
, Vanity Fair
and New York
magazine, chose to play up this disparity in an August illustration, drawn shortly after two white missionaries stricken with Ebola were admitted to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Here’s when the world cares about Ebola: According to data from Google Trends, which tracks the popularity of specific topics in the news, the world only really started paying attention to the Ebola epidemic when it involved patients in the U.S. The two peaks occurred during the first week of August and the very beginning of October. They correspond to two key events: the transfer of Ebola-stricken missionaries Ken Brantley and Nancy Writebol to Atlanta and Thomas E. Duncan’s arrival in Dallas. Besides those two events, the ebb and flow (or lack thereof) of Ebola headlines didn’t change: Coverage of the epidemic in West Africa garnered relatively low levels of interest.
The same pattern played on out on Twitter, too. According to social media analytics service Topsy, attention to Ebola only peaked when news broke that the virus had come to the U.S. The Western-centric tenor of the news is even clearer in the following GIF, which tracks the explosion of tweets about “Ebola” or #Ebola from Sept. 7 to Oct. 7. The orange blobs puff up tremendously in the beginning of October, right around the time Duncan showed up in the United States.
There’s a natural tendency in the news to focus only on things that can or do directly affect your audience. Even still, the sheer increase in the media’s — and by extension, the country’s — attention span when Ebola made its way across the Atlantic is staggering. According to a Pew Research Center poll, it outranked protests in Hong Kong, the Secret Service’s troubles and airstrikes against ISIS by the U.S. as the story Americans focused on the most. By comparison, it also eclipsed other outbreak-related stories, including mad cow disease in Europe, MERS in the Middle East and swine flu in Mexico and the U.S.