Former CNN producer on H1N1 coverage: Retaining audience through fear-mongering


Peter Dykstra, a former executive producer of CNN’s science, tech and weather unit, offers his take on media coverage of the H1N1 virus in a column for Mother Nature News.

Dykstra writes, “The now-waning uproar over the swine flu is a textbook example of a serious story, magnified beyond reason in order to retain an audience by frightening it.” He goes on to say that local television news directors were thankful the flu threat landed just in time for sweeps month.

He points to past events in which he says the media has overreacted, including the case of Andrew Speaker, the man who had tuberculosis and was banned from flying into the United States.

The media’s overreaction and “phony hype” makes it easier for skeptics to ignore peer-reviewed science, according to the column. Dykstra, who has written about the threat of shark attacks for CNN, suspects we have “a better chance of being bitten on the butt by the consequences of bad journalism than by a shark.”

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Pia Christensen