It’s no surprise that news coverage of the pandemic has skewed toward bad news. That holds for other nations as well. But the national news outlets in the U.S. present far more negative coverage of the COVID-19 disease than even local news outlets. Finishing a distant third was foreign coverage of the crisis.
David Leonhardt of the New York Times has been writing about this subject since January and has come up with a handy graph that illustrates his point.
National U.S. publications and TV networks cover Covid news much more negatively than foreign media, scientific journals or regional media within the U.S.
— David Leonhardt (@DLeonhardt) March 24, 2021
Allahpundit at Hot Air points out that stories about the elderly, newly freed because they’ve been vaccinated, have been terribly lacking in the media.
You know the answer to the question in the headline. Of course the media has a “bad news bias.” I wrote about it myself a few weeks ago in the context of the strange under-coverage of newly vaccinated senior citizens finally reuniting with their grandchildren after a year in isolation. The emotional pull of stories like that should have made them a staple of TV news coverage in March, as more Americans got their shots. There was even a partisan angle in it potentially for our fair-and-balanced press: “Look at the joy Joe Biden’s vaccine program has brought back to our country!”
As it is, a month on, I still haven’t seen any news segments like that. The closest we’ve gotten is occasional print pieces by or about senior citizens describing their relief at being able to reenter society safely. Good stuff — but not enough.
Considering the tsunami of bad news stories we’ve had to endure for a year, it will never be enough. And that’s because public health authorities are still urging an overabundance of caution in coming out of isolation and getting back to normal.
The reasons may be a mix of personal and professional. People like Fauci and CDC head Rochelle Walensky felt the enormous weight of responsibility — and buckled. They chose the easier path of “better safe than sorry,” which is why even today, they are admonishing people not to gather in large crowds, always wear at least one mask, and maintain social distancing. One hundred million Americans have been vaccinated and they won’t be satisfied until COVID cases drop to just a few a month.
For them, and other public health professionals, it’s a question of absolutes. They don’t trust the American people with nuanced observations about how to stay safe, so they feel duty-bound to act as if the pandemic is still a huge threat to most people.
In addition to the “If it bleeds, it leads” mindset in the media, there were other “biases” at work, according to Allah. They include an “industry bias” — how the news business has changed since Vietnam — and “influence bias,” which works with “expert bias” to make the Faucis of the world hyper-cautious.
But as you might expect, there’s also a partisan bias at work.
Is it the Pfizer vaccine results that's the inflection point here—when COVID media coverage begins to become less negative—or is it the presidential election on 11/3? Hard to tell but if anything, the election would seem to line up slightly better with this data. https://t.co/nakOHeDJ8G
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) March 24, 2021
Did the media stop (or at least slow down on) accentuating the negative once their nemesis had lost his reelection bid? Not totally, of course: This past weekend headlines were circulating about a rise in cases in 21 states despite the decline nationally and the huge strides we’ve made in vaccinating adults. There’s still plenty of coverage in the Biden era to bum you out. And Leonhardt reiterated the point on Twitter that negativity was seen in COVID coverage from both liberal and conservative outlets. But could the media’s anti-Trump posture have made them perhaps a wee bit eager to highlight the previous administration’s failings? The question answers itself.
I reject the notion that the media can’t help themselves, that “bias” of any kind is responsible for skewing the news toward the negative. At bottom, it is media elitism — that they are better, smarter, prettier, and more clever than you rubes out there in flyover country who must be instructed, not informed. They instruct the people using parables and achieve a political agenda by creating heroes, villains, damsels in distress, and “everyman” characters so that everyone knows how they’re supposed to feel about a particular politician or idea.
The COVID crisis was bound to accentuate all of these qualities. We had the hero Fauci, the villain Trump, the “everyman” front-line health professionals — all consumed with the “drama” of the pandemic. The media made the crisis into an hour-long nightly soap opera with storylines that scared us into submission.
Since the media doesn’t do introspection, the whole thing is likely to be repeated again and again. At least until people tune them out completely.