Date of Award

8-2007

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Communication and Information

Major Professor

Paul Ashdown

Committee Members

C. E. Caudill, Sally J. McMillan, James Neutens

Abstract

This study examined U.S. press coverage of the H5N1 bird-flu virus and the possible influenza pandemic in the period 1996 - 2006. One elite and three regional newspapers were used. Framing analysis facilitated by the QDA Miner revealed that militaristic, race, natural disaster and Christian/biblical metaphors, as well as the myths of the “other world,” the “hero,” the “victim,” and the “plague,” created fear that helped to perpetuate the story and keep it on the media agenda. This was a story that the press constructed both scientifically and metaphorically, relying on scientific facts as well as on cultural myths and moral reasons. The social representation of bird flu and a possible influenza pandemic in U.S. press coverage resonated with representations of SARS, Ebola and other infectious diseases. The bird-flu and pandemic story was ripe with values of faith in science and scientific progress, belief and pride in good and generous people and nations, hard and persistent work in the name of public health. This was a compelling human interest story, descriptive of apocalyptic pictures, different worlds and different cultures, mysterious developments, fears of the novel, uncertain and unpredictable. Myths and metaphors, as parts of language, shared culture and understanding, helped the newspapers paint a vivid, descriptive, and informative picture of the bird-flu virus and the expectant avian influenza pandemic. There was consistency between the four newspapers. The myths and metaphors they used in their bird-flu and pandemic reports transcended the particularities of the papers. Myths and metaphors in coverage provoked and kept public interest in the topic, aided comprehension, and served as shorthand for complexity.

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