Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pulitzer Writer Prizes Illogic Over Journalism


You'd think he'd know better.

He's a Pulitzer-Prize-winning editorial writer and a veteran international journalist who speaks Spanish and Arabic. He works for a legacy media outlet at one of America's largest cities - the city which just played host to America's first domestic case of Ebola.  It's been an event that some people in town have found very unsettling.

Yet today, Tod Robberson produced a breathlessly egregious op-ed for the Dallas Morning News, in which he assumed for himself a pedigree of medical divination that would make any real doctor blush with embarrassment.

"Thomas Duncan did not have to die," trumpets the headline of Robberson's piece, which ran in a prime corner of the DMN's website this morning.

Duncan, as you probably know by now, was the Ebola patient here in Dallas who died yesterday from the disease, a death Robberson, despite lacking a medical diploma of any kind, says was "avoidable."

"Ebola doesn’t have to be fatal," Robberson writes with all the hubris he can muster, "as long as doctors are able to respond quickly as soon as the patient starts to show symptoms."

Well, no; Ebola doesn't have to be fatal, nor does cancer, nor do car wrecks.  However, people die from them all the time, because their fatality factors depend on a lot more than how quickly doctors are able to respond.

Robberson assumes for himself an unwarranted command of Duncan's medical file by charging that Duncan's death is due to human error on the part of at least one person on the medical staff at Dallas' Presbyterian Hospital, where Duncan was treated and died.

He bases his charge on the unfortunate fact that when Duncan first went to Presbyterian, he was discharged despite the fact that he'd told at least one person tending him that he'd recently arrived in America from Liberia, a factor which should have set off alarm bells at any hospital in the world worth its Rod of Asclepius.

"It’s possible that Dallas and the country avoided catastrophe after recovering from the initial, egregious mistakes," Robberson concludes.  "But the tragedy of Duncan’s death was avoidable.  Thousands of people have survived Ebola, and Duncan should have been among them."

Wow.  In how many ways is Robberson wrong in that paragraph?

For one thing, although Robberson uses "mistakes" in the plural, he is being over-dramatic here, since in his article, he only outlines the one mistake of Presbyterian's ER initially releasing Duncan over a miscommunication error.  It's also quite obvious that Dallas and the country have avoided a "catastrophe," even considering Presbyterian's initial ER mistake.

Furthermore, the presumptions Robberson makes regarding Duncan's overall health despite his Ebola portray a stunning lack of journalistic credibility.  Determining whether one specific person should have been expected to die or live based on the survival rates of patients of the same illness in other countries is fraught with unquantifiable variables.

What other diseases might Duncan have been exposed to during his life, since he was from a Majority Word country with negligible healthcare and sanitation?  How robust was Duncan's basic health and immune system, in terms of whether or not he had high blood pressure or any other blood disorder, diabetes, any sexually-transmitted disease, or other complications?  These are all questions that, frankly, are none of our business at this point - and certainly would not be known by Robberson to the degree that he could reach a determination regarding their impact on whether he should have survived his case of Ebola.

Meanwhile, with his tirade of illogic, Robberson merely contributes to the ever-increasing swarm of Ebola hysteria being fomented - mostly by the media, such as Robberson's employer - across our ever-more-gullible society.

"The chain of danger to the public only grew worse because of the hospital’s failure to place him in isolation," Robberson exaggerates.  "Duncan stayed in an apartment with children who then went to four Dallas ISD schools, prompting alarmed parents to pull their children from classes.  Ambulance personnel were placed at risk.  The entire city went on high alert."

And if any of that was true to the extent Robberson's imagines it was, was Parkland solely at fault?  What responsibility should a sick person from Liberia have assumed upon himself to reduce his possible threat to others until he was sure he didn't have Ebola?

The only people who've been on high alert in North Central Texas have been the feeble-minded connoisseurs of sensationalism who feed on the breathless updates of pandemic disaster being peddled not just by the mainstream media, but even by conspiracy addicts like the right-wing Drudge Report.  Is that the type of audience to whom Robberson, the Pulitzer writer, and his employer want to align - and thereby sacrifice - their integrity?

"Tod draws upon his experience writing about the suffering behind wars, natural disasters and Third World poverty," croons his bio on the Pulitzer Prize's website, "to help Dallas Morning News readers understand the human drama unfolding in our own neighborhoods."

Yeah, right:  human drama.

It's unfolding, all right, along with the DMN's claim for responsible journalism.


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