Obama's Plagues: A Qualitative Content Analysis of White House Messaging in Response to Ebola and Zika
Duggins, Kali Michael
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Over the last two years, Ebola and Zika have made international headlines and been the focus of a storm of legislation, media attention and public concern in the United States. As each disease threatened the United States mainland, President Barack Obama and his Administration were forced to contend with the challenges of logistics, funding, public safety and the prevention of panic. This thesis explores messaging from the Obama White House during the Ebola and Zika crises in an effort to analyze how each disease was handled individually and how their handlings compare. Two major questions of this thesis are whether the Obama White House learned lessons from the Ebola experience that were applied to the Zika response and whether public and media criticisms of White House response lead to any alterations in actions or messaging. This analysis reveals that while it is unclear whether there was marked improvement in messaging between Ebola and Zika, there were distinct differences in how the administration responded to Zika. An important finding of this thesis is an overall lack of academic examination of the United States government’s handling of these two public health crises from a communication studies perspective. This gap in literature and research makes this analysis relevant especially to communication practitioners and academics, and also to leaders across the interconnected fields of politics, policy and public health. This thesis suggests that the bridge necessary as multiple disciplines prepare for future epidemics is communication.