In early October, pundits were busy talking about the missteps in the treatment of Thomas Eric Duncan, a man who came to the United States from Liberia and later died from Ebola. On the Oct. 2 edition of the Fox News program “Outnumbered,” co-host Andrea Tantaros said:
I’ll say it before, I’ll say it again: In these countries, they do not believe in traditional medical care. So someone could get off a flight and seek treatment from a witch doctor who practices Santeria. This is a bigger fear. We’re hoping they come to the hospitals in the U.S. They might not.
She got hammered. Raw Story and Media Matters found her remarks newsworthy. And on CNN’s media show, “Reliable Sources,” PBS science correspondent Miles O’Brien ripped away: “Well, I mean, we could digress into what motivated that and perhaps the racial component of all this, the arrogance, the first-world versus third-world statements and implications of just that,” said O’Brien. “It’s offensive on several levels and it reflects, frankly, a level of ignorance which we should not allow in our media and in our discourse.” Fox News contributor Bernard Goldberg, purveyor of BernardGoldberg.com, stuck up for Tantaros.
Okay, the reference to Santeria was off the wall.
Yet look how CNN put the matter in its news coverage this week:
I’ve worked in a lot of these rural African communities, and it’s really, really difficult to do even basic public health messaging, like telling people to wash their hands, with communities that have totally spiritual model of medicine, either to do with religious beliefs or to do with curses, those kinds of ideas, rather than a germ-theory disease which we’re more used to. So, they’ve got a real uphill battle to change people’s minds. We see how hard it is to change doctors’ minds in the U.S. or in the west about new therapies, let alone rural villages in Africa.
Who said that? None other than Alexander van Tulleken, in a Tuesday appearance on “The Lead with Jake Tapper.” No cable-news lifer, van Tulleken is a senior fellow at the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) at Fordham University. That’s not all, according to a short profile in New York Magazine: “He cut his teeth doing fieldwork in Darfur during the cease-fire of 2005 and spends a couple of weeks as a volunteer physician in Uganda every year. He’s also examined tribal medicine in remote parts of Congo, Gabon, Malaysia, India, Nepal, Russia, and Peru for a BBC miniseries called Medicine Men Gone Wild.”
No question that Tantaros was spouting off while van Tulleken was engaging in far more sober analysis. And Tantaros was addressing Africans who might arrive in the United States whereas van Tulleken was talking about African villages. Outside of that, the Erik Wemple Blog wonders: What’s the difference, aside from the fact that Tantaros works for an outlet that everyone — present company included — piles upon?