Backlash follows TV report on ‘health dangers’ from refugees

A Fargo TV station is being criticized for an “investigation” into the health risks posed by accepting refugees.

“Could kindness be bad for your health?” the Valley News Live story asked the other night, noting the Centers for Disease Control report that tuberculosis rates are rising in the country for the first time in 20 years.


Documents obtained by the group “Judicial Watch” in April contained emails from the CDC, reading in part “We might as well plan on many of these kids having TB”. It’s from a 2014 operation where top federal health officials were sent to the southern U.S. border to stem the tide of unaccompanied children crossing into the country. Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that primarily affects the lungs and is then spread through the air.

On page three of the Minnesota Refugee Health Quarterly from April of this year has the headline “TB Continues to Affect Refugee Communities”. There’s even a pie chart, breaking down all of Minnesota’s 150 TB cases. Over a quarter were from Somalian refugees.

The story didn’t note that Judicial Watch, one of the sources for the story, is a conservative organization that has opposed the Obama administration’s plan to increase the number of refugees resettled in the country.

The station also dismissed those who disagreed with the story, partly because they may be affiliated with organizations “pushing an agenda.”

Does this mean you need to run out and get a TB test? Apparently one east coast doctor thinks so, as one viewer told me their doctor insisted on a test since Fargo is a resettlement area. It probably wouldn’t hurt and the more informed you are about your own health is never a bad thing.

Furthermore this store had ignited much discussion on the Valley News Live social media sites. Many of those criticizing this report are not even from the viewing area, and may or may not be affiliated with organizations pushing an agenda.

The Fargo Forum, which owns competing TV station WDAY, followed up with its own story that said Valley News’ Live’s story isn’t true.

Health officials say tuberculosis is low on the list of diseases Americans should be worried about. It’s spread through the air but not highly contagious, unlike measles or influenza, said Doug Schultz, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health.

To get infected “requires prolonged, close contact,” he said. “Just being in the proximity of someone with tuberculosis, you’re considered a low risk.”

Worldwide, it is the most lethal infectious disease, killing 1.5 million people in 2014. But in the U.S., being infected is rare.

In 2015, there were 9,563 cases in the U.S., according to a preliminary CDC report issued in March. It was an increase from 2014, which had 9,406 cases. In the 1950s, there were roughly 60,000 cases a year.

May is “sweeps month,” an important audience measurement period when TV stations roll out its most dramatic investigations.

“You know, it’s like people just having a disease become an entertainment for them,” Hukun Abdullahi, who watched the report, told Fargo Forum.

The backlash against the story has not been well received at Valley News Live, the paper said.

Brie Blackburn, a 28-year-old marketing coordinator in Moorhead, emailed the station to complain that it was “purposefully singling out people and creating fear for them.”

The response she received from Wareham, the general manager, had the subject line “Get a grip.”

“Brie, Thousands of our viewers are facing a health crisis that no one told them was happening. Sorry their danger is inconvenient to your political narrative,” Wareham wrote in the email, which Blackburn provided to The Forum.

“When you start implanting these kinds of views that can be so negative and taken in such the wrong context and put it back to the days where people feel that segregation is the best to keep their kids safe or keep their families safe, it just pushes Fargo way, way back into ages that nobody wants to go,” Blackburn said.

  • Al

    Well done, Bob–health reporting is tricky to start, without sensationalizing it. (To wit: John Oliver’s recent show on health reporting:

    Yes, TB is much more prevalent in developing countries, because they often lack the health care personnel to ensure that people with TB are taking medicine consistently–the most effective way to get better.

    Lucky for us (and not just because I’m biased), Minnesota has a stellar TB program, and local public health departments are rock stars at helping monitor and treat TB. Here, it’s not the deadly disease it can be in developing countries that can’t monitor/treat.

    Sometimes (quite often, probably), we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

  • DavidG

    This is at least the second story Valley Live has done with whiffs of xenophobia. Earlier, they did a story alleging a Muslim immigrant shouted “Allah Akbar” while committing a rape in a convenience store. Something denied by the arresting report.

    • Angry Jonny

      Continuing a long standing Valley News tradition of sensationalist BS reporting, designed to feed the trolls.

  • jon

    World health organization says TB infects about 150 people out of every 100,000 each year, and fatalities are 15 out of every 100,000 per year so about 0.15% of people Globally will get TB and 0.015% will die from it…

    But here is the good news, there is a test for TB (I had to get it before attending public school) there is a vaccine, and WHO has targeted it for eradication, at least in countries where it isn’t already endemic.

    TB is going the way of smallpox globally or polio in the US, though it could go the way of Measles in the US if we don’t take it seriously, so we should take it seriously, but that doesn’t mean making it a public health concern.

    Less than 10,000 cases annually in the US, likely with a mortality rate of less than 10% (because I assume the US has a better mortality rate than the global rate particularly when TB is mostly prevalent in countries that lack access to antibiotics) is hardly something to be concerned about.
    More people die from the Flu in the US than contract TB.

    If you really want something to worry about regarding your health, Heart disease and cancer are responsible for about half of all deaths recorded in the US from year to year. The Third leading cause of death (lower respiratory disease) isn’t even close…

    • DavidG

      The vaccine isn’t particularly effective, and is rarely administered in the US because of the low risk of infection here.

      • jon

        As I understand it it’s a “circle vaccination” (I think that’s the term)
        Same system they used to eradicate smallpox, and is currently being used to battle polio…
        If you find some one who is infected, you get everyone who has had prolonged contact with them, test and vaccinate.

        • Al

          TB treatment isn’t actually vaccination–In the US, for TB, you test and treat for latent cases if people have been exposed. But it’s not preventive like a vaccine–it’s in response to a positive test.

          The vaccine is used in developing countries to inoculate infants and children against TB (and only lasts for a few years).

  • Kassie

    I think the only time residents of what is now the US had to worry about immigrants carrying disease was in the first few hundred years after Columbus when native populations were destroyed by western disease. Yet, somehow, for the past 200 years it has been used as an xenophobic call for arms against immigrants from all over the world including Germany and Ireland, and more recently places like Somalia, the Middle East and Haiti.

  • Mike Worcester

    //The station also dismissed those who disagreed with the story, partly
    because they may be affiliated with organizations “pushing an agenda.”

    Never mind that their primary source for the story is itself an organization “pushing an agenda”. Weird how that works some days.

  • wjc

    I loved “Many of those criticizing this report… may or may not be affiliated with organizations pushing an agenda.”

    Well, many of those supporting this report may or may not be purple, water buffalo from Pluto. What value does a statement about who people “may or may not be” add to a story, other than an inflammatory edge.

  • ec99

    It’s been suggested that it’s no coincidence this story broke during Sweeps Month.

  • BJ

    >In 2015, there were 9,563 cases in the U.S., according to a preliminary CDC report issued in March. It was an increase from 2014, which had 9,406 cases. In the 1950s, there were roughly 60,000 cases a year.

    Let’s go back to the 1950’s and make america great again!!!!

  • Rob

    I wonder how many people who are wrecking their own health by not exercising, eating too much crappy food, drinking too much – and thereby developing high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and other life- threatening conditions – are freaking out about the infinitesimallly small likelihood that they’ ll contract TB from a – gasp! – refugee?

    Sadly, too many.

  • Mike Worcester

    The Fargo Forum (not exactly a left-leaning paper) has a blistering editorial in today’s edition about the “report”. The lte’s are also quite unsparing in their criticism.