First, there are good reasons to think that the media is hyping the flu. While some medical reporting has been responsible, folks in the news media have been using rather extreme headlines/leads, making use of dramatic music and images, and also using the various tricks of the trade to play up the situation. While the media should be covering the story, some of the coverage provided can be seen as “fear mongering.” The obvious motivation is that fear sells newspapers and attracts viewers. As such, the media folks have a commercial interest in playing up the story. Naturally, this sort of behavior is morally questionable because it helps create unnecessary levels of fear in the public and can lead to panic.
Second, some might suggest that politicians are also exploiting the situation in order to show that they are handling things. To use a specific example, the current administration could see this as an opportunity to show how much better it is than the Bush administration when it comes to crisis management. Whereas the Bush administration showed gross incompetence in handling Katrina, the Obama administration can create the image of being cool, calm and in control of the situation. Interestingly, while there is a swine flu command center in operation, there is no comparable system in place to deal with the normal flu-an illness that kills about 36,000 Americans a year. Of course, the normal flu does not provide the sort of scenario needed to craft an image. This is because, despite the deaths, Americans are rather complacent and seemingly unconcerned about the standard flu.
Third, it might be suspected that the situation is being exploited by the politicians and the pharmaceutical companies. While the CDC does collect specimens and do research on the virus, they hand off their data to these companies who will develop (and sell) any vaccines or treatments that are developed. Also, by declaring the situation to be an emergency, millions of dollars are freed for use. Some of this money is, obviously enough, being funneled into the pharmaceutical companies. For example, Tamiflu is no doubt selling very well now.
Naturally, each of these three concerns can be countered; but a cynical look in situations like this one is always well worth considering.