This paper argues that journalists’ discursive actions in an outbreak context manifest in identifiable rhetorical motifs, which in turn influence the delivery of biomedical information by the media in such a context. Via a critical approach grounded in rhetorical theory, I identified three distinct rhetorical motifs influencing the reportage of health information in the early days of the H1N1 outbreak. A public-health motif was exhibited in texts featuring a particular health official and offering the statements of such an official as a mechanism of reassurance. A concealment-of-information motif was exhibited in texts emphasizing the importance of the transparency of health officials, and in texts demonstrating ambivalence about information provided by socially-sanctioned sources. Finally, in texts mythologizing the outbreak to the exclusion of other functions of the text (e.g., conveying who is at risk, protective behaviours, symptoms), I identified a pandemic motif. Each motif differs in the conclusions it offers to audiences seeking to gauge relative levels of risk, and to receive information about protective behaviours. I suggest that one means of interpreting the manifestation of distinct rhetorical motifs in the context of a high-risk health threat is the certainty that this context alters moral responsibilities, consequently influencing the manifestation of narrative role.