Measles Parties, Moral Panics and Folk Devils… Oh My!
by Edward Coll
February 10, 2015
In the market for eyeballs, mass media seldom misses an opportunity to misinform the public and create controversy by ginning up a climate of fear by fabricating folk devils and a moral panic amidst a crisis.
The Disneyland measles outbreak provides the most recent example.
Media outlets from Fox to NPR spread a rumor that the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued a bulletin advising parents not to take children to “measles parties” to intentionally infect their children. Supposedly, these parties are being thrown by anti-vaxers to give their children “natural immunity.”
No such bulletin was ever issued by the CDPH and according to the respected debunking site Snopes.com here is what really happened:
“… a California health official explained to us that before the rumor circulated, a news outlet called to inquire whether the department had received any reports about measles parties. When a representative stated no such reports had been received, the reporter asked about the agency’s position on measles parties and was (predictably) told public health officials advised against them.”
This CPDH response to these nonexistent measles parties was morphed into a “bulletin” giving credibility to a false rumor created and spread by the media outlets themselves. Time, Salon, ABC News, LA Times, and Washington Post, to name just some, are all still actively spreading the rumor. None have retracted the story yet.
Perhaps the broadcast outlets intentional spreading of this false rumor shows the scant regard they hold for their public interest obligations.
image: Salon (Yuganov Konstantin via Shutterstock)