CEU Descubre: Michigan University expert analyzes disinformation generated by American media around cases of Ebola in the US


Manuel Chávez, partner of the University CEU Cardenal Herrera Research Group ‘Media & Energy’ has revealed the findings of his study on disinformation and sensationalism of the media that provoked panic within the American society.


Professor Manuel Chávez from Michigan State University, giving his speech in English to CEU-UCH students of Journalism within CEU Descubre.


Professor at Michigan State University, Manuel Chávez, has participated in the science seminar series CEU Descubre at University CEU Cardenal Herrera to present the findings of his research into the media coverage of cases of Ebola registered in the United States. Chávez pointed out that journalistic sensationalism didn’t help to calm the public: ‘This is especially serious in the case of television, mainly because 9 out of 10 Americans confirm gaining information about critical situations through this type of media. Only 1% of the US population obtains information through main newspapers such as the New York Times or the Washington Post’.

During CEU Descubre, the Michigan University researcher and partner of the University CEU Cardenal Herrera Research Group ‘Media & Energy’ has also underlined the politicization of American TV channels in handling information, e.g. blaming President Obama’s administration rather than informing about the disease: ‘Instead of reassuring the public by explaining that the Ebola virus isn’t transmitted by air, TV channels such as CNN ended up speculating whether the virus could be a biological weapon created by the Islamic state with experts giving their opinion on the probability of this scenario.’ The failure to distinguish between a piece of information and an opinion was another problem of the media coverage of the event that professor Chávez highlighted.

During his speech in English to the University CEU Cardenal Herrera students of the Degree of Journalism, professor Chávez also emphasized that the sensationalism of the news covers and TV headlines didn’t help to calm the American public but instead provoked ‘panic’. ‘There were covers featuring full-page photos of policemen in bio-hazard suits and a heading ‘Ebola here!’ and so many Americans didn’t send their children to school because these covers didn’t explain the main point: that the virus isn’t transmitted by air.’




The role of authorities and social networks

Professor Chávez also questioned the statement of the health authorities: ‘The message of the Center of Disease Control (CDC), send across the nation, wasn’t coordinated with the message communicated by the health authorities in Texas, where the first of the two cases of Ebola in the US was registered.’ In addition, the information supplied by these authorities was very technical and complex for a society such as the American, which in general is not very educated: ‘Nine out of ten Americans thought that Ebola was transmitted in the same way as the flu. CDC should have made their statement clearer and include very simple pieces of information to explain that this virus cannot fly.’

The next research project of professor Chávez and his team at Michigan State University will be a study of a paper on social networks as a source of information about Ebola: ‘We have more than 250 million tweets from the month between the first death from Ebola and the declaration of a nurse who treated the patient as non-infectious to analyse using big data technologies. Even though the research is yet to be conducted, we believe that in this case, social media brought about more disinformation than clarity.’


CEU-UCH professors María José and Enric Poch during a presentation of the session of professor Manuel Chávez within CEU Descubre.


Research into communication media

Professor Chávez is an expert in treatment of information involving topics related to security, democracy and international relations. In the past four years, the focus of his work has been on the influence of the public on the process of editorial decisions of the media. Manuel Chávez, coordinator of the Workshop for Editors and Journalist on Latin America that takes place every year in Miami in collaboration with Florida International University and the University of Florida, frequently cooperates with the American communication media such as NPR, ABCradio, Michigan Public Radio, Financial Times, BBC, UNIVISION, Radio Mil and the media belonging to the Reform Group

During the presentation of this new English session of the science seminar series CEU Descubre, its coordinator professor Enric Poch emphasized the importance of the way in which information is presented to mobilize society in situations in which medical, health, veterinary and communicational aspects are combined. Professor of the Journalism degree of University CEU Cardenal Herrera, María José Pou, who has introduced professor Chávez, thanked him for his support and collaboration with the University CEU Cardenal Herrera Research Group Media & Energy, led by professor Maite Mercado.


Professor Manuel Chávez together with professors and researchers of the University CEU Cardenal Herrera Research Group Media & Energy.



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