Now for a throwback to the last crisis that preoccupied cable-news producers 24-7: Addressing the international Ebola outbreak, United Nations Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon on Nov. 21 stated that if the international community can “accelerate our response, we can contain and end the outbreak by the middle of next year.” One of the keys to doing just that, remarked the official, was to place more “international responders” in remote areas of the key West African countries — primarily Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, but also Mali — where the virus has spread.
Another priority: “We need to avoid travel bans, discrimination against health workers and other steps that would isolate countries when they need help most.”
Hear that, King of Cable News Bill O’Reilly?
About a month ago, O’Reilly used his eponymous show on Fox News to crusade for an impractical, hysterical and destructive ban on travelers coming from West Africa into the United States. He made these calls amid a state of panic that he himself generated, along with his peers in cable television. As this Ebola timeline demonstrates, the push for a travel ban on “The O’Reilly Factor” stemmed from a storm of Ebola news in October, when the infected included a freelance NBC cameraman (Ashoka Mukpo), two nurses who’d cared for Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan (Nina Pham and Amber Vinson) and a doctor who’d provided assistance in West Africa (Craig Spencer). Speculation on how those folks had conducted themselves and who they may have infected filled hours of air time.
Of all the hosts, O’Reilly was perhaps alone in his vehemence and defiance of medical opinion. On Oct. 17, for example, he said:
Enter the Ebola controversy. It’s now been established that three black nations in Africa — Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia — are Ground Zero for the spread of the deadly disease. Fourteen other African nations have now banned West Africans in the Ebola zone from entering their countries, and 14 other nations have other travel restrictions.
But when [“The O’Reilly Factor"] and others suggest the U.S.A. do the same thing, we’re attacked as racist by pathetic ideological loons who could not care less about protecting the folks. This is a public health issue, a safety issue. Not a racial issue. Ebola knows no color. But the fact is that a Liberian national, Thomas Duncan, started the Ebola mess in America by lying to immigration authorities. Mr. Duncan paid for that with his life, and his case has embarrassed American health officials.
On Oct. 20, he said:
A travel ban to America is certainly appropriate at least until American health officials get organized to contain any Ebola intrusion. But the president continues to say no. That’s just one of many examples of ideology trumping practical solutions to vexing problems. Summing up, we are living in a very dangerous, complicated world and we need problem-solvers, not ideologues, in office.
On Oct. 24, he said:
The Obama administration simply cannot handle the Ebola situation. The airport screenings are a joke. The lack of a West African visa ban is negligence. That’s the truth. But the liberal media, the Obama enablers, will not tell you the truth. Instead we have a New York Times editorial today saying, quote “Starting Monday in six states, and rolled out in other states soon after, travelers who visited the Ebola region will be required to report their temperature and any other symptoms to state or local health officials daily for 21 days — the maximum incubation period for the disease to develop. The officials will be responsible for finding and possibly detaining anyone violating these rules.”
Are you kidding me? The officials will be responsible for finding these people if they don’t call in? They shouldn’t be out of isolation. If you have direct contact with anyone in an Ebola region and you come back to the U.S.A., you should be in quarantine for 21 days, period.
Turns out that O’Reilly had it precisely wrong. The United States is now Ebola-free and, just as medical experts have said throughout, the pivotal consideration in keeping it that way is providing aid to the countries where the virus resides. Just how important is free travel to the aid effort? Daniel Epstein, a Washington-based spokesman for the World Health Organization, told the Erik Wemple Blog earlier this month that the organization had ferried 600 people in and out of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea since the virus broke out in March (some of those folks have made more than one trip). When asked how WHO had reacted to O’Reilly’s calls for a travel ban, Epstein said, “We never tried to get on his show or tried to rebut his statements but we did issue statements about our position about international travel and Ebola.”
Such statements and other appeals to simple logic didn’t work with O’Reilly, who thrust upon his viewers an ugly dark-ages isolationism. Which would have been fine, if only he’d been right. O’Reilly said in an August 2013 program: “When you make a mistake, admit it.” Surely he’ll do just that on Ebola.