One of those adorable catch-phrases journalists use is "Why would anyone care?" Another one is "If it bleeds it leads," although I haven't seen a lot of headlines recently about menstruation or slaughterhouses, so obviously that one has sacrificed some of its meaning for the sake of brevity.
When journalists ask "Why would anyone care" they don't mean "is this an important issue that people ought to care about," because journalists by and large aren't starry-eyed hippies out to make the world a better place. Journalists understand that people are basically sociopaths and nihilists, and you can't make them care about anything. Thus, if they can't find a way to tell a story such that their audience will be interested, they don't tell the story. Hence the lack of coverage for the various civil wars and genocides buzzing away in Niggeria and the rest of Africa like so much black noise.
One of the tricks journalists use to fool people into caring about something they would otherwise ignore is to give it a local angle. If a plane goes down in the Indian Ocean they tell us how many people from our own country died (and if one of them is really local you can expect three days of follow-ups plus coverage of the funeral). Presumably, people are supposed to think "Mein Gott! I've been on planes! That could've been me flying to Thailand to have sex with underage prostitutes! I am very interested in this event or story."
With natural disasters, you get a little bit about the locals who are missing, and then you get the fearmongering. Could a tsunami happen here? What can YOU do to prepare? The answers are generally "No," and "Nothing. If you see the tide suddenly rushing out for no reason you're already dead. Make your time."
Another thing you should know about journalists is that they're lazy. But really, who isn't? What this means for news is that whenever there's an earthquake somewhere in the world, we get the same follow-up pieces about the impending Big One (9.5 on the Richter scale not scary enough? How about 10?) which will inevitably level the entire West Coast and kill everyone (except for Redmond, because of that Pact they signed). And do you have enough food and water stored in bombproof containers to last for six months? Do you?
Earthquakes at least are a real threat, even if the Big One might not happen for another 300 years. Because it could happen tomorrow, and be just as bad as the worst case scenario. Or worse! That's one of the reasons I live here.
None of which explains the yearly media furor over flu season, or the more recent hard-on for the impending avian influenza epidemic. No one from your town, province or country has ever died of avian flu. In fact, no one outside of Asia has, and quite frankly there are a lot of people in Asia, and they all have to die of something. But the killer flu is coming. For you!
There has been no massive flu epidemic, let alone a pandemic (which must be derived from some -demic rating metric I'm unfamiliar with), yet it somehow stays in the news like a subliminal mantra: bird flu, bird flu, bird flu. Fnord. Maybe it'll finally bear its apocalyptic fruit next year (or the year after). I'm not holding my breath though.
Last year a bunch of the flu vaccine doses in the US were contaminated, leading to mass(media) panic and line-ups for flu shots of truly communist proportions. The CDC and flu conspiracists got people so worked up that there were tour groups organized to cross the border into Canada or Mexico and get flu shots. And at the end of it all, about half as many people got vaccinated as usual. The result? Certainly not the repeat of the 1918 Spanish Flu we were all hoping for.
The thing about the flu vaccine is that it's a short-term fix, at best. Getting it may prevent you from catching the flu that year (assuming you get vaccinated against the right strain), but it doesn't offer any long-term benefit. And if you eventually do get the flu, you're more likely to die from it. Sort of like going to a casino: the longer you keep playing the more likely you are to lose it all.
Or, maybe not. Most reports of flu deaths are in the neighbourhood of 30,000 per year. That's a lot. But included in that number are a lot of people who died of pneumonia that was inferred to have been caused by the flu. The number of people who actually die of the flu directly is less than 1000 each year. That's not very much at all. But even the artificially inflated number is less than one third of the 98,000 people who die annually from medical error. Where's my vaccine for that?
About the only thing missing from the flu season coverage is some guy with a scraggly grey beard telling us how Nostradamus predicted a cataclysmic outbreak for NEXT YEAR!!! Or maybe THE YEAR AFTER THAT!!!!
It seems to me that the biggest threat of a flu epidemic would be from somebody releasing live samples of the virus that caused the last flu epidemic in 1957. But why would they do that?
Most likely, the annual flu paranoia festival is another symptom of journalistic laziness. They can recycle a lot of statistics and material. They know when the "story" is going to happen, so they can schedule interviews with experts well ahead of time. Maybe even a little early, so they can work it around their kid's soccer game. Then head down to the clinic for some streeters and if you're lucky a shot of a line-up, and you're done. They can splice in some stock footage of a guy with a microscope and something that looks magnified later.
Meanwhile, I'll continue to treat flu shots the same way I treat diapers, false teeth and Viagra: something I don't need to bother with as long as I'm under 60 and don't go to raves.