Through the past year, we here at the Powell Tribune have taken great care to provide accurate information on COVID-19 so readers can assess the magnitude of the risk and take knowledgeable steps to …
Through the past year, we here at the Powell Tribune have taken great care to provide accurate information on COVID-19 so readers can assess the magnitude of the risk and take knowledgeable steps to respond. The national media, on the other hand, hasn’t been so responsible.
A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) shows major media outlets are committed less to providing balanced information than they are to scaring people.
“Why is All COVID-19 News Bad News?” found that 65% of scientific journal articles and 54% of non-U.S. news articles about the coronavirus were negative in tone, but an overwhelming 91% of national media reports in the U.S. were negative.
The study, which has not been peer reviewed, found that for every article in major media outlets about decreasing coronavirus cases, there were five articles about rising case numbers. This was true even during periods in which cases were actually declining.
Stories about COVID-19 published by the top 15 U.S. media outlets are 25 percentage points more likely to be negative in tone than those in English media outside the U.S.
The researchers found that 90% of the articles on school reopenings were negative, compared to 56% for those in the English-language major media in other countries. This despite a growing scientific consensus that classrooms are not a significant source of spread for COVID-19.
While the media’s penchant for partisan politics is also well documented, when it comes to coverage of the pandemic, outlets on the right and left had no discernible difference in negativity, according to the study.
“Negativity appears to be unrelated to the political leanings of the newspaper’s or network’s audience,” the authors wrote.
While partisan bias didn’t play a role in the tone of coverage, the researchers found that stories discussing the benefits of social distancing and mask wearing are less numerous than stories about President Donald Trump not wearing a mask.
Early in the pandemic, Trump had suggested that the drug hydroxychloroquine could provide a beneficial treatment for the coronavirus, which turned out not to be the case. However, the terms “Trump” and “hydroxychloroquine” received more coverage than stories related to companies and researchers developing vaccines.
The researchers also note that the New York Times has some of the highest rates of negativity for COVID-related stories.
The findings really aren’t that surprising for an industry well known for its “if it bleeds it leads” mentality. There is a growing distrust of journalism, and it may be why some people’s attitudes toward the pandemic rise to the level of paranoia and they conclude the whole thing is a hoax.
For those who rely on the information they read and see in the national media, it’s doing real harm. There’s plenty of evidence that depression rates among children and adults are skyrocketing, and the ubiquitous negativity on COVID-19 in the media has only fueled this sense of doom so many of us feel.
Based on their findings, the NBER researchers endorse guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is to stop consuming so much COVID-19 news. It’s simply not good for your mental health.