The U.S. media has bombarded Americans with a torrent of unrelenting bad news when it comes to Covid. A new National Bureau of Economic Research paper says the media in this country went too far and created a climate of fear and even panic. In their paper, “Why Is All COVID-19 News Bad News?” scholars from Dartmouth College and Brown University analyzed the tone of Covid-related news articles going back to January 1. They found that 91 percent of stories by major U.S. media outlets were negative in tone compared with 54 percent for international media sources. The authors noted that stories of increasing Covid-19 cases outnumbered stories of decreasing cases by a factor of more than 5-to-1, even during times when new cases were declining.
This imbalance in media coverage created a climate of fear.
The Foundation for Economic Education reported:
“Americans and, worse, lawmakers, began to respond to the virus in irrational ways. Basic virology went out the window as ’15 days to flatten the curve’ devolved into a mad idea that we must close down society and shelter from the virus, unleashing unprecedented restrictions on economic freedom and destroying untold numbers of lives and livelihoods in the process. This is the power of fear.”
Curtis Houck, managing editor of the Media Research Center’s NewsBusters, said he is not surprised that 91 percent of the Covid U.S. media coverage was negative in tone because that’s exactly the tone the media has in covering President Trump.
Houck accused the media of “trying to scare the American people and cripple them, breaking people’s wills with lockdowns.”
“The media wants to have its audience in the palm of their hands. They are creating a dependency. ‘Oh, no, don’t go outside!’ They are creating a new dependent class that will tune in every day.”
MRC found that from January to mid-March in an average hour of news, CNN spent 40 second reporting on Covid. He says that’s because CNN was obsessed with impeachment news. Which, as it turned out, was a giant nothing-burger. It was based entirely on fake news.
“The virus is serious, unlike the reporting of it,” noted Houck. He noted that in mid-March the media pivoted sharply into what he described as “hyperbolic” reporting on the virus. “The media was scaring people by reporting on unedited journal studies, and stories like teachers prewriting their obituaries. It was absolute insanity!”
Houck said the media took a holiday in late May and June from their “disingenuous coverage” of Covid to instead focus on the Black Lives Matter street violence. “When the protests broke out, Covid faded to the background, almost as if it didn’t exist anymore.”
As the summer progressed, the media seemed upset with any positive front that the president and the Corona Virus Task Force presented. The media accused President Trump of lying, making idiotic comments at the briefings and eventually called them “a waste of time.”
The media really took aim at Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, one of the first governors to reopen his state. With CNN Situation Room host Wolf Blitzer at the helm, panelists attacked Dr. Deborah Birx for not lashing out at Gov. Kemp for reopening parts of his state’s economy. The clear implication being that Georgia’s Covid deaths would spike as a result of Kemp lifting quarantine restrictions. Today, Georgia’s rate of Covid deaths is half of New York’s and New Jersey’s and well below those of Illinois, Michigan, and the District of Columbia, all of which have much more stringent lockdowns.
Houck said there is no doubt the negative coverage of Covid hurt President Trump in the election. “[MRC] polled five Trump successes, one of them being Operation Warp Speed. We found that more than one out of every three Biden voters had never even heard of it.”
Operation Warp Speed, is, of course, the Trump administration’s successful program to partner with the private sector to bring an effective Covid vaccine to market.
Since the election, he said the media coverage of Covid remains negative and he’s not surprised. “Their real goal is to put Americans in the worst possible shape and it is doing lasting damage, I think mentally, to the American people. The isolation is crippling and when you have nothing to do you might turn on the news or read something in social media and start believing all the negativity hyperbole.”
Houck also notes that the media will continue its drumbeat of negative coverage of the virus through the remainder of this year, trying to build up Biden as our savior, should he be inaugurated in January.
While reporting of the virus must have a serious tone, coverage ought to be balanced. Instead, what we’ve experienced over the past 8 months has been a steady stream of fear and negativity. This one-sided approach has led to irrational choices by the public and worse, policy makers. Ultimately, it has put millions of Americans in such fear and panic, they are willing to give up their freedoms. It is not hyperbole to say that we are now on the verge of losing our liberties, largely as a result of irrational fears created by the media’s warped reporting of reality.
Catherine Mortensen is Vice President of Communications at Americans for Limited Government.