Representations of Ebola and its victims in liberal American newspapers

Open access

Abstract

Combining critical discourse analysis and the cognitive theory of metaphor, the study analyses hard news on Ebola from two American newspapers of a liberal political orientation, The New York Times and The New York Daily News, to investigate metaphoric representations of the disease and portrayals of its victims. It is revealed that both newspapers heavily rely on a single conceptual metaphor of EBOLA AS WAR, with only two alternative metaphors of EBOLA AS AN ANIMATE/HUMAN BEING and EBOLA AS A NATURAL CATASTROPHE employed. All three metaphoric themes assign the role of a culprit solely to the virus, which stands in contrast to non-metaphoric discursive allocations of blame for the situation in Africa, assigning responsibility mainly to man-made factors. African victims tend to be impersonalized and portrayed as voiceless and agentless, rarely occupying the role of a “fighter” in the military metaphoric representation of the disease, which runs counter to the findings of recent studies detecting a change towards a more positive image of Africa in the media. Both newspapers fail to represent infected ordinary Africans as sovereign agents, hindering readers from reflexively identifying with them.

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