Bimbo Banter

The Risk of a Word: Ebola

  • Crisis
  • October 3, 2014
  • by Katie Sibley


In the Twitterverse, you must expect that words will be repeated out of context. Twitter blew up with the phrase “not impossible” yesterday. Headlines followed suit. The phrase originated from the CDC Director, Dr. Frieden, who was apparently describing the likelihood of more people contracting Ebola. This comes after the Dallas mayor said there’s “zero chance” and the Dallas Independent School District superintendent used the phrase “very low [chance].”

This is a tricky situation, no doubt. We’re dealing with managing a contagious, life-threatening virus and managing the general public’s perception—err, panic levels. The problem is we’re hearing differing threat levels from top officials. The guy we really want to hear from seems to be lost at best. (That’s you, Dr. Frieden)

My prediction is Dr. Frieden was asked, “Is it impossible that there are more cases of Ebola?” And, he truthfully answered, “It’s not impossible.” Then, the public and media had a field day with the phrase.

He should have expected that question. If he was trained and rehearsed properly, he would know the techniques to handle forward-looking statements in a way that sets expectations and portrays confidence.

Regardless of the actual facts, public officials should be attuned to the emotion involved in a situation like this. They need to work to maintain the public’s trust and confidence. Here’s hoping they get it together.

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