I worked with Maggie before she joined MSNBC. She's a friend. I know her to be a knowledgeable and objective health care journalist, a person whose opinion I trust when she declares there's no danger of an Ebola outbreak.
But, see, there's the problem: Most people don't have a Maggie Fox in their lives, a trusted expert. Not that long ago, the leaders of American social and political institutions were the honest brokers, but no more.
The governors of New Jersey, New York, Illinois, and Florida backed mandatory quarantines last week, offering few details. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo backtracked Sunday. Christie bowed Monday, announcing that Hickox will be transported to Maine. I can think of a number of reasons governors might be so cavalier with civil liberties, starting with ignorance, fear, and presidential politics. But there's more to it than cynicism.
There's a lack of faith in the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and other health care institutions that overstated the certitude of the science behind Ebola, the preparedness of the U.S. health care system, and the efficiency of their own protocols.
Whom do you trust?
The consensus of the scientific community is that mandatory quarantines will discourage health care workers from fighting the roots of the disease in West Africa, a long-term threat to the United States.
But at least one health care professional, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, an NBC correspondent who had traveled to Liberia and whose cameraman had contracted Ebola, violated a voluntary-based protocol by picking up food at a restaurant near her home. When a doctor, Craig Spencer, tested positive in New York City on Thursday, forensic scientists had to retrace his every step.
Do you trust doctors and nurses to monitor themselves?
Insisting upon anonymity, White House officials told reporters they had pressured Cuomo and Christie to reconsider mandatory confinement. Christie said he had "gotten absolutely no contact" from the White House. Cuomo said he has not been pressured.
Do you trust any of these politicians?
When the initial case of Ebola rattled a Dallas hospital, doctors and administrators blamed nurses for overlooking the patient's trip to Liberia. Turns out, doctors overlooked nurses' warnings. When a nurse who treated the first patent became infected, officials accused her of violating their protocols. Turns out, the protocols weren't in place.
Whom do you trust in the medical profession?
In the media, cultural and business pressures have created newsrooms with far fewer people like Maggie, experienced and impartial reporters who dig for the truth. Facts matter less than years ago, a problem often hidden by the rise of writing that emphasizes "point of view" and "voice."
On Ebola, conservative media organizations tend to exaggerate the threat of virus, and they stretch to link Democrats to it. Liberal news organizations tend to minimize the threat, deploying condescension and mockery where a dose of empathy might be more persuasive.