The half life of hysteria

David Weigel makes sense:

The incident-free Interview screenings should be remembered alongside two other overhyped 2014 fears: the Ebola panic and the reaction to ISIS. The latter stories were handled even worse, because they happened during an election, and because some candidates created a feedback loop of childish speculation that Ebola could spread by sneezes, or that virus-laden ISIS terrorists could stalk across the Mexican border. All of these people were wrong, and thanks to the amnesiac nature of the news cycle, they might never have to answer for that. (Being wildly wrong on live TV during crises is a good way to secure a return invitation.)

But their wrongness mattered–and anyone could have predicted it. It’s easy (and useful!) to mock “experts,” but the Department of Homeland Security debunked the threat of ISIS crossing the border and the theory that North Korean hackers had terror cells ready to strike your local Regal. The Ohio State University professor John Mueller has spent most of a decade calmly collecting data on terrorism and proving that the threats to “the Homeland” are overblown.

“The lifetime chance of an American being killed by international terrorism is about one in 80,000–about the same chance of being killed by a comet or a meteor,” wrote Mueller in 2007. “Even if there were a 9/11-scale attack every three months for the next five years, the likelihood that an individual American would number among the dead would be two hundredths of a percent.”

Of course anything can happen in the next few weeks disproving these conclusions; but what we’ve seen in the last six months shows the nadir of the cable news hypercycle. These end times remind, actually, of 1999-2000: a sound economy for the upper middle class and 1 percent allowed for hysterical nonsense like Y2K to command the imagination. A cynical and easily manipulated press thought Al Gore rolled his eyes too often and wore lipstick too purple enough to be considered a serious candidate for president.

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