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Lane: The most difficult speech

BY JOE LANE | OCTOBER 15, 2014 5:00 AM

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It’s been nearly seven months since the world first started hearing about the latest Ebola outbreak. In those seven months, however, we have heard about the deadly virus nonstop. A potent combination of Twitter and dozens of online and television news sources available at our fingertips has created a fear of Ebola that has reached every corner of the Earth.

It is one man’s job, however, to instill a sense of confidence in millions of people around the country. One man has the job of making sure that despite all of the reports, the pictures, the videos, and the slowly rising death toll, that Ebola is controllable.

This man is Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frieden is slowly becoming a household name — he has appeared in press conferences practically every day for the past few weeks. He has the difficult job of explaining that, despite all that has occurred, it is still very unlikely that many people in the United States will contract the illness.

In these press conferences, Frieden has the hardest job of any speech giver on the planet, and his ability to remain calm and express confidence is more important than any other individual giving a speech in the United States, and that includes President Obama.

In his latest series of press conferences, Frieden has stepped up to the task of maintaining his confident composure and tone throughout the difficult questions with which he is faced.

Ebola is unlike any terrorist threat this country has ever seen. You cannot offer a bargain to Ebola; it doesn’t care if you’re a man, woman, or child; it doesn’t want money; it doesn’t care for power. Ebola wants only one thing: to kill everyone in its path.

While Obama addresses the intentions of the United States to work with other countries to stop threats such as ISIS and economic instability, Frieden is forced to address an enemy that doesn’t respond to reason. Furthermore, he has the added stressor that despite everything even trusted news sources are saying, he honestly thinks that Ebola can and will be contained.

In his speeches, he is tasked with methodically addressing not only the deaths of individuals that have already occurred as a result of Ebola but also the deaths that may yet occur.

When a president must address a terrorist threat (or the like) that has occurred — for example, the tragic events of 9/11 or Pearl Harbor — they do so by speaking in the past tense. They address the event that has occurred. Frieden does not have this opportunity. He must address the event as though it is far from over and the fight has just begun.

And while it is true that speeches pertaining to the War on Terror or about the national safety of the United States must address the future plans of the administration to protect its citizens, none of these speeches must explain to the American public that the nation is under attack.

I do not envy Frieden because there is no harder job as a speech giver than addressing the threat of Ebola. Although I may not envy him, I am thoroughly impressed by his ability keep his composure and maintain confidence during a situation in which nearly any other person would fail to do so.


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