Monday, September 18, 2006

Spinach e. coli contamination is a crisis, not a "scare"

I have a bone to pick with the news media about the coverage of the current wave of e. coli contamination in the spinach supply. My local news called this an "e. coli scare" which I thought was really strange. Isn't a "scare" when you thought something bad was going to happen, but it turned out to be a false alarm? A bomb scare means you thought a bomb was going to go off. A cancer scare means you thought you had cancer but didn't. So in my book, an e. coli scare means that we were worried that there was widespread contamination but there wasn't. CNN.com reports today that so far 109 people have become sick, in 19 states, and one person has died.

That's not a scare, that's a serious contamination of the food supply.

The Raleigh news wasn't alone using the "scare" label. I did a Google New search for "spinach e. coli scare" and came up with 265 results.

Ironically, I am usually critical of the media for overly inflaming potential dangers, but in this case I believe the choice of the word "scare" was imprecise because it didn't go far enough in describing the situation.

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