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Issues & Insights

A Tale Of Two Pandemics: Media Downplayed Swine Flu Outbreak Under Obama

Passengers in Mexico during the 2009 swine flu pandemic. Epidemia de Pánico.

I&I Editorial

The potential impact of the coronavirus might still be unknown, but the media hype is already plain as day. Particularly when you compare how they are covering this pandemic with the last one, which happened to occur when Barack Obama was in the White House.

To get a sense of the differences in how the press treated these two outbreaks of brand new viruses, let’s look at how the New York Times and CNN – the bellwethers of mainstream journalism in print and on TV – covered each at similar points in the outbreak.

The day after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic, and President Donald Trump gave a national address, CNN’s front page was almost entirely devoted to coronavirus.

On the newsstands, two-thirds of the New York Times’ front page was devoted entirely to coronavirus stories.


See Also: Time To End Coronavirus Hysteria And Focus On Saving Some Lives


Obviously, a new deadly disease that is spreading across the country is a big story, as is the WHO’s declaration that it’s now a pandemic. Add in a White House address in which Trump declares a travel ban, widespread school closures, cancelations of events, including the NBA season, and a stock market crash, and it’s huge news.

But the media coverage of the outbreak in the weeks leading up to Wednesday was just as breathless. Indeed, some of the panic in the stock market and the government can be blamed on the end-of-the-world hysteria that the press has been whipping up for some time now.

The day before the WHO’s declaration of a pandemic, for example, CNN posted a story calling the coronavirus outbreak “unprecedented in modern times.”

Unprecedented? Really? Do CNN’s reporters and editors not know about the flu pandemic of 1918? Or even the swine flu pandemic of 2009?

Although everyone seems to have forgotten the swine flu was even a thing, it infected nearly 61 million people in the U.S. from spring 2009 through early 2010. And it claimed as many as 18,000 lives, according to a Centers for Disease Control study published in 2011. In total, the disease is now believed to have caused more than 200,000 deaths worldwide.

(As of this writing, confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. are a little over 1,700, with 40 deaths attributed to the virus. Worldwide, confirmed cases number fewer than 130,000 and just over 4,700 people have died.)

The swine flu was a serious enough outbreak for President Barack Obama to declare a public health emergency in late April 2009. The WHO declared it a pandemic in early July – at which time 18,000 Americans had contracted the novel flu virus and 44 had died. And unlike coronavirus, the swine flu was more deadly to younger people. Obama declared a national emergency when the virus reemerged with a vengeance in the fall.

Yet the press barely covered any of these events.

When the WHO declared the swine flu “unstoppable” on June 11, 2009, CNN didn’t even lead with that story on its homepage. It was in a pile of links on the side of the page. (See the screenshot of that day’s home page below, taken from the Internet Archive.)

A week later, there was no mention of the swine flu anywhere on CNN’s home page.

The WHO’s announcement rated only a photo on the New York Times’s front page, with a story that was buried on page A11.

When Obama declared a national emergency, CNN didn’t get around to mentioning the death toll of the disease until the 10th paragraph. By that point, millions had been infected and 1,000 people in the U.S. had died.

The day after Obama’s declaration, CNN carried only a single link to the swine flu story in its “Newspulse” section. It ranked below the headline: “Wayward flight’s co-pilot denies arguing.”

The Times’ story about Obama’s declaration didn’t mention the death toll in the U.S. until the fourth paragraph. Two days later, the swine flu was off the Times’ front page again.

We’re not saying that the coronavirus isn’t serious. It’s a new disease with an as-yet-unknown trajectory and a seemingly high fatality rate. So caution is warranted.

But it should be obvious to anyone that the scale and intensity of the coronavirus coverage is far beyond the actual risk posed by the disease. Even if coronavirus is twice as deadly as the swine flu pandemic, more people will die from falling down this year than from COVID-19.

More likely, the Trump-hating leftist media are hoping – consciously or not – that a health panic will do what the Russia investigation and the impeachment failed to. Namely, drive Trump out of office.

How else do you explain the vast difference in the way they’ve treated these two deadly pandemics?

— Written by John Merline

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33 comments

  • Two differences. One, the media, especially cable, is determined to get rid of Trump. This is just their latest gleeful attempt. 2) Social media is much more important than it was in 2009. Spreading panic is much easier today.

    • One other difference. China has plenty to get back at Trump for and the Democrat water carriers (95% of media) are in the pocket of the DRC who would love to make Trump pay.

  • “The swine flu was a serious enough outbreak for President Barack Obama to declare a public health emergency in late April 2009.” Obama didn’t declare a health emergency until late OCTOBER per the article you referenced in this paragraph, “When Obama declared a national emergency, CNN didn’t get around to mentioning the death toll of the disease until the 10th paragraph.” This is your link to your referenced article. Note the date of the article is Oct 25, not April. https://web.archive.org/web/20091025231009/http:/www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/10/24/h1n1.obama/index.html

  • Uhhh…in the article you say the WHO claim the virus as ‘unstoppable’, and in the screenshot it clearly says the WHO claims the virus is ‘not unstoppable’.

    • Look more closely and you see that the CNN headline says “not stoppable.”

      • The side bar is not clear … However – the Source Article under CNN Health Main Vital Signs – for June 11, 2009 is:

        Swine flu ‘not stoppable,’ World Health Organization says

  • The writer mentions, as others also have, that “More likely, the Trump-hating leftist media are hoping – consciously or not – that a health panic will do what the Russia investigation and the impeachment failed to. Namely, drive Trump out of office.” While this may be a fear of those expressing this opinion, how would that work? Would Trump be so embarrassed/ashamed that he would just resign? That seems pretty unlikely. Wouldn’t he have to be successfully impeached in order to remove him from office non-voluntarily? This didn’t work out the last time, and the Senate is still controlled by Republicans, so just how will he be “driven from office”? And if he in fact can’t be “driven from office,” then what is the point of making such claims? It is pretty clear that Trump is perfectly capable of defending himself from all critics.

    • the dems (now commie leadership) is hoping for a recession or downward economy will do the trick..i agree trump will wipe them out.

    • How would that work? Simple – it helps Biden’s campaign if people think Trump bungled the Wuhan virus. In reality, Trumps performing exceptionally on this, while the media is acting like it’s the end of the world.

  • One thing that this article didn’t mention – at no time during the Swine Flu epidemic when Barrack was POTUS did the country shut down. Schools stayed open, athletic events and leagues and tournaments were held and nothing was shuttered and no one was told to stay home if the gathering was more than a hundred people.

    • Schools shutdown all over the place in May of 2009 while we were still trying to figure out how contagious and deadly H1N1 was.

  • The mainstream media is most certainly the ENEMY of the people. Now they are spreading Chinese propaganda, like good little comrades.

  • I see this quite different, I believe if the media and government did what they are doing now, the number of those sick from the Swine Flu would of been a lot less. If they would of shut down sporting events and theme parks, the number of deaths and sick would of been kept to a minimum, but since they decided to wait til the number was as high as it was, nothing could of been done about it at that point. This is not political in nature, it has nothing to do with our election year, if that was the reason for it then it wouldn’t be world wide, it would only be an issue here in the US.

  • IF the Covid-19 Flu fails to mutate it may well be over in 6-8 weeks. However, if it DOES mutate, than look out! So far, so good as it doesn’t appear to be mutating, but actually waining as it is in both China and Italy.

  • This is just my opinion but I think the other pandemics got less of an audience because the people had confidence in the man in charge but the person in charge now leaves one half of the America people shrouded in doubt of his ability to even handle this situation because of the way he lies and all the name calling and just his inability to be an adult maybe someone should have told him that being POTUS was a grown mans job

    • Interesting analysis.
      Are you aware that Trump’s public approval rating was higher that obama’s at comparable points in time during the crises?
      That would seem to expose your screed as just more mindless, feckless sycophantic “thought”.

    • I agree, strong leadership at the top makes a huge difference in how people react.

  • I think your article answers itself, 18,000 H1N1 cases and 40 dead in US, vs 1700 Covid-19 cases and 40 dead now. Which one seems more pressing? Beyond that, we are just in the beginning phases of the spread in the US. Our infection rates model almost perfectly with Italy’s by per-day rate, and we don’t even have widespread testing like they did/do.

    • To the above poster “John”: You either read this article wrong since it very clearly stated the fact that it was 18,000 Americans who DIED to the swine flu-H1N1 and NOT 40 people who died from it as you stated.

      OR you are intentionally spouting mis-information and lies in a poor attempt at making it look like the Democratic Party dominated media is fair when it is definitely not, the Democrat media picks and chooses what to run with based on politics.

      If the media was at all fair then they would have been shouting 10x louder from every single roof top in the nation about the H1N1 virus than they have done with the Coronavirus since the swine flu was deadlier. It attacked young people AND old people unlike Covid-19 which is only a real threat to elderly people with underlying conditions.

      But the Democrat owned media did not such thing because it would have shown what a bumbling fool Obama really was and reporting facts about how inept and corrupt the Obama administration was is something they pretty much never did – look no further than Obama’s IRS targeting conservatives, spying on reporters, spying on people via the NSA, spying on the Republican opponent to Hillary which was Trump etc etc etc etc etc…

      • Spencer, re-read the line again. It says the WHO declared swine flu a pandemic when “18,000 Americans had Contracted the virus, and 44 had died.”
        Contracted means they had it, died means they died.
        Tell me again how I misread it.

      • Ok I see your obvious confusion now spencer. As this article is discussing the response to two different outbreaks, I was talking about the numbers at the time of the virus was declared a pandemic. At the time H1N1 was declared a pandemic the article says 18,000 Americans were infected and 40 had died. At the time corona was declared a pandemic 1,700 Americans were infected and 40 had died. Using the total deaths for H1N1 compared to what we have now for Covid-19 wouldn’t make any sense, because we are at the very beginning stages of infection. If you take those two data points, 18k with 40 deaths and 1.7k with 40 deaths on face value, it would appear corona will be about 9x as devastating at the current rate. So if it is true that 18k people ended up dying from swine, which is the top range of the WHO’s P-value range, then it stands to reason that 162,000 Americans will die from corona unless we respond better.

      • Spencer 3, before you wear out your tin foil. Re-read the article and where specifically John was talking about. “ The WHO declared it a pandemic in early July – at which time 18,000 Americans had contracted the novel flu virus and 44 had died.”

        Compared to “As of this writing, confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. are a little over 1,700, with 40 deaths attributed to the virus.”

  • By your own numbers in this article, the coronavirus is way more then twice as deadly. In fact, by your numbers, it’s 829 times more deadly. If it reaches 60 mil, then 1,410,000 people will die, by your numbers. But what really drew attention, in the beginning, is how the Chinese government tried to keep it quite. The 35 year old doctor, who discover Covid-19 died from it. This virus is deadly enough to kill a 35 year doctor who is an expert in corona viruses or China killed this doctor. Either way, that’s going to draw way more attention then the swine flu.
    Italy saw the death rate of those infected jump up to 30% in one day.
    The markets were already bottomed out in the spring of 2009.
    I’m not trying to say the media isn’t biased, all media is nowadays, including you, but you don’t see a difference in these 2 situations at all, other then the leftist-trump hating media?

  • I honestly don’t remember anyone who got the swine flu despite 60 million Americans getting it. It was less deadly than COVID-19 as of today from a percentage standpoint. Obama had declared a health emergency before a single death and in the first month 1 million Americans had been tested. The media is overhyping this bc Trump under hyped it. He disbanded the pandemic response chain of command in 2018. That’s a fact. He said the count would go from 15 to near zero whatever that means. The GOP doesn’t trust science so you get Rep Gaetz wearing a gas mask to a vote. Nunes is telling people to go out. If you think Dems aren’t going to lose their jobs in this recession let me remind you that there are more Dems than GOP and we were at nearly full employment. You think Dems want a recession?

    Trump finally has a crisis he can’t lie out but make sure you blame the media.

    • So, let me guess…Trump colluded with the Russians to steal the election from Hillary, Trump obstructed justice, Trump must be removed from office, yada, yada, yada…
      You lefties are so predictable.

  • I’d explain it as a narcissistic president who has made the media the focal point of his presidency. The tweets. The Russians on Facebook lol the “fake news.” I mean, it’s clear he’s a media thot. So, what do you expect?

    Add to that the millions of ppl infected with swine flu, you’ve got a helluva story to push. Trump didn’t help by downplaying the virus, especially with citizens looking at Chiba and Italy as potential impacts on US soil. I mean…he has ppl glued to Twitter, is he that self absorbed as to think Twitter users ONLY see his tweets? Lol there’s videos of sheer fear across the ponds and he didn’t address it well. Not at all. Media gold.

  • I think the media coverage is partially explained by reports early on the characteristics of the virus making it worse than swine flu, especially the asymptomatic transmission and exponential growth in China. My brother voted for Trump, followed this virus closely, and was far more worried about it based on the epidemiology than he ever was swine flu.

    The KEY to understand about this virus – IF it’s allowed to kill 2-3x more than season flu does, then either it won’t be containable at all, in which case it will be a genocide and millions of Americans will die, more than WW1, WW2, Civil war, Vietnam and Korea combined, OR more likely it will be containable but containment will be necessarily so onerous and so costly it will send the economy into a depression. There’s no scenario where it ends up killing as many as seasonal flu and we don’t pay a huge economic price to stop it getting exponentially worse. There’s no scenario where the impact just flames out like other novel viruses with no major economic consequences (which are here already anyways).

    This is why the freakout over the virus was justified and not hype, because the virus was unknown and early evidence suggested this dynamic was possible. It’s why the delayed federal reaction is so costly, if implemented earlier the economic shutdowns could’ve been less extensive, recession could’ve been mild. A significant recession is more likely now, but if containment measures aren’t implemented now the scenarios get extremely much worse. In this case the media was more foresightful than the stock markets.

  • I think it’s bigger than Trump. I believe it’s connected to the WHO (owned by the Rockefeller Foundation) and to Bill Gates who wants to use vaccines to reduce the population. (wait…I thought vaccines were supposed to save lives!) Why has there been so little testing for the virus? Could it be that they wanted the mortality rate to look huge? They had a practice run w/Event 201 in October and worked out the kinks. They could have called it “How to control a non-critical thinking population? It’s easy! Scare them!” There are better ways to handle this but they don’t want it handled. I hear voices of reason amidst this and I pray those voices will be heard and shared. Don’t le’go the wheel!

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