The New York Times published a piece Saturday entitled, “Experts Oppose Ebola Travel Ban, Saying It Would Cut Off Worst-Hit Countries.” The only problem with it is it quotes exactly zero people explicitly saying they oppose a ban.
That lack of quotes doesn’t stop the Times from making the claim, assigning it to nebulous “public health officials.”
They write, “public health officials say a travel ban would be ineffective and difficult to carry out and would not entirely prevent people in Ebola-hit countries from entering the United States.”
The next paragraph reads:
Ultimately, health specialists said, a ban would do more harm than good because it would isolate impoverished nations that are barely able to cope with the outbreak, and possibly cut them off from the international aid workers who provide critical help to contain the disease.
The Times never names these experts, nor do they directly quote anyone saying they oppose a travel ban.
The first person they quote is Dr. Barry R. Bloom, who specializes in infectious diseases and is a professor of public health at Harvard. He said, “If one takes the big-picture view the most important thing that can be done to protect Americans from Ebola is controlling Ebola in West Africa.”
Next they quote Dr. Gerald Weissmann, professor of medicine at NYU, saying, “The objections are very humane and very lovely. They consider quarantines medieval, and think there’s a touch of racism in this. It may be, but I wouldn’t care if Ebola came from Sweden.” But, they point out, Dr. Weissmann supports a travel ban.
Finally, they quote J. Stephen Morrison, director of global health policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, not a medical doctor, saying, “A cordon sanitaire of this region would be a public health failure as well as an ethical and political failure. We have got to figure out how to avoid that outcome.” Close, but not explicitly opposing a ban.
Curiously, they have Aditya Bhattacharji from the “political risk firm” the Eurasia Group, pointing out how planes being grounded after 9/11 actually delayed the start of flu season, so effectively working to stop the spread of disease.
Aside from never actually directly quoting any expert making the author’s point, the story also gets basic facts about Ebola wrong. Writing:
Ebola spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids, like blood or vomit. Unlike the flu, which kills tens of thousands of people each year, there is no vaccine against Ebola and there is no cure. It also has a mortality rate of about 50 percent.
That said, the risk of catching Ebola is extremely low. There is no risk of transmission from people who have been exposed to the virus but are not yet showing symptoms. Bleach solutions can kill it. The best way to contain the spread of Ebola is to avoid direct contact with people who have been contaminated.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines say Ebola is communicable through “close contact,” not “direct contact.” Close contact is defined by the CDC as being within 3 feet of an infected person, or in an enclosed space with them for a prolonged period of time. And the World Health Organization lists the death rate at 70 percent, not 50.