Representations of Ebola and its victims in liberal American newspapers

Open access


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.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • BOLTANSKI L. 1999. Distant suffering: Morality media and politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • BROOKES H.J. 1995. ‘Suit tie and a touch of juju’ - The ideological construction of Africa: A critical discourse analysis of news on Africa in the British press. Discourse and Society vol. 6 no. 4 pp. 461-494.

  • CAMUS J.T.W. 2009. Metaphors of cancer in scientific popularization articles in the British press. Discourse Studies vol. 11 no. 4 pp. 465-495.

  • CHARTERIS-BLACK J. 2004. Corpus approaches to critical metaphor analysis. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • CHOULIARAKI L. 2006. The spectatorship of suffering. London: Sage.

  • CLARKE J.N. 1992. Cancer heart disease and AIDS: What do the media tell us about these diseases? Health Communication vol. 4 no. 2 pp. 105-120.

  • CLOW B. 2001. Who’s afraid of Susan Sontag? Or the myths and metaphors of cancer Reconsidered. Social History of Medicine vol. 14 no. 2 pp. 293-312.

  • DE B’BÉRI B.E. and LOUW P.E. 2011. Afropessimism: A genealogy of discourse. Critical Arts vol. 25 no. 3 pp. 335-346.

  • ENGELHARDT J. von and JANSZ J. 2014. Challenging humanitarian communication: An empirical exploration of Kony 2012. International Communication Gazette vol. 76 no. 6 pp. 464-484.

  • FAIR J.E. 1996. The body politic the bodies of women and the politics of famine in U.S. television coverage of famine in the Horn of Africa. Journalism and Mass Communication Monographs vol. 158 pp. 1-41.

  • FAIR J.E. and PARKS L. 2001. Africa on camera: Television news coverage and aerial imaging of Rwandan refugees. Africa Today vol. 48 no. 2 pp. 34-57.

  • FAIRCLOUGH N. 1992. Discourse and social change. Cambridge: Polity Press.

  • FAIRCLOUGH N. 1995. Media discourse. London: Edward Arnold.

  • GOLAN G.J. 2008. Where in the world is Africa? Predicting coverage of Africa by US television networks. The International Communication Gazette vol. 70 no. 1 pp. 41-57.

  • HAMMOND P. 2007. Framing post-Cold War conflicts: The media and international intervention. New York: Twayne Publishers.

  • HARCUP T. and O’NEILL D. 2001. What is news? Galtung and Ruge revisited. Journalism Studies vol. 2 no. 2 pp. 261-280.

  • HART CH. and LUKEŠ D. (eds) 2007. Cognitive linguistics in critical discourse analysis: Application and theory. Newcastle UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

  • HART CH. 2011. Force-interactive patterns in immigration discourse: A cognitive linguistic approach to CDA. Discourse and Society vol. 22 no. 3 pp. 269-286.

  • HAWK B. (ed) 1992. Africa’s media image. New York: Praeger.

  • HAWKINS B. 2001. Ideology metaphor and iconographic reference. In: R. Dirven R. Frank and C. Ilie eds. Language and ideology volume II: Descriptive cognitive approaches. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing pp. 27-50.

  • HUNTER-GAULT CH. 2006. New news out of Africa: Uncovering Africa’s renaissance. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • IBELEMA M. 2014. “Tribal fixation” and Africa’s otherness: Changes and resilience in news coverage. Journalism and Communication Monographs vol. 16 no. 3 pp. 162-217.

  • JOYE S. 2010. News discourses on distant suffering: A critical discourse analysis of the 2003 SARS outbreak. Discourse and Society vol. 21 no. 5 pp. 586-601.

  • KOLLER V. 2004. Metaphor and gender in business media discourse: A critical cognitive study. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • KYRIAKIDOU M. 2015. Media witnessing: Exploring the audience of distant suffering. Media Culture and Society vol. 37 no. 2 pp. 215-231.

  • LAKOFF G. and JOHNSON M. 1980. Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • LAKOFF G. and JOHNSON M. 1999. Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to Western thought. New York: Basic Books.

  • LARSON B.M.H. NERLICH B. and WALLIS P. 2005. Metaphors and biorisks: The war on infectious diseases and invasive species. Science Communication vol. 26 no. 3 pp. 243-268.

  • MACDONALD M. 2003. Exploring media discourse. London: Arnold.

  • MEYERS L. FRAWLEY T. GOSS S. and KANG Ch. 2015. Ebola virus outbreak 2014: Clinical review for emergency physicians. Annals of Emergency Medicine vol. 65 no. 1 pp. 101-108.

  • NOTHIAS T. 2014. ‘Rising’ ‘hopeful’ ‘new’: Visualizing Africa in the age of globalization. Visual Communication vol. 13 no. 3 pp. 323-339.

  • PATTON C. 1990. Inventing AIDS. London: Routledge.

  • PETSKO G. 2001. The Rosetta stone. Genome Biology vol. 2 no. 5 pp. 1-2.

  • REISFIELD G. and WILSON G. 2004. Use of metaphor in the discourse on cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology vol. 22 no. 19 pp. 4024-4027.

  • SAID E.W. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Vintage.

  • SANDAHL C. 2001. Performing metaphors: AIDS disability and technology. Contemporary Theatre Review vol. 11 no. 3-4 pp. 49-60.

  • SCOTT M. 2009. Marginalized negative or trivial? Coverage of Africa in the UK press. Media Culture and Society vol. 31 no. 4 pp. 533-557.

  • SCOTT M. 2014. The mediation of distant suffering: An empirical contribution beyond television news texts. Media Culture and Society vol. 36 no. 1 pp. 3-19.

  • SEMINO E. 2008. Metaphor in discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • SILVERSTONE R. 2007. Media and morality: On the rise of the mediapolis. Cambridge: Polity Press.

  • SMITH T.C. 2006. Deadly diseases and epidemics: Ebola. Philadelphia: Chelsea House.

  • SONTAG S. 1978. Illness as metaphor. New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux.

  • SONTAG S. 1989. AIDS and its metaphors. New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux.

  • TRČKOVÁ D. 2014. Representations of natural catastrophes in newspaper discourse. Brno: Masaryk University.

  • VAN DIJK T.A. 1988. News as discourse. Hillsdale NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

  • VAN DIJK T.A. 1993. Principles of critical discourse analysis. Discourse and Society vol. 4 no. 2 pp. 249-283.

  • VAN LEEUWEN T. 2008. Discourse and practice: New tools for critical discourse analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • WALLIS P. and NERLICH B. 2005. Disease metaphors in new epidemics: The UK media framing of the 2003 SARS epidemic. Social Science and Medicine vol. 60 pp. 2629-2639.

  • WEISS G. and WODAK R. (eds) 2003. Critical discourse analysis: Theory and interdisciplinarity. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • WODAK R. 2006. Mediation between discourse and society: Assessing cognitive approaches in CDA. Discourse Studies vol. 8 no. 1 179-190.

  • WODAK R. and MEYER M. (eds) 2009. Methods of critical discourse analysis. 2nd ed. London: Sage. Corpus material The New York Daily News [online] [Accessed 2 January 2015].

  • Available at: The New York Times [online] [Accessed 2 January 2015].

  • Available at:

Journal information
Impact Factor

CiteScore 2018: 0.25

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.144
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.447

Cited By
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 348 190 5
PDF Downloads 179 108 1