New Study Shows Media Lied About Covid-19
In following various news reports on the Covid-19 pandemic, Dartmouth Economic Professor Bruce Sacerdote came to believe that the reporting was not consistent with his understanding of the scientific data. He sensed that the media played up the bad news and played down good news. This is something upon which I have been commenting for most of the past year. Has the media lied about Covid-19?
Unlike me, Sacerdote had the professional means to put his suspicion to the test. He gathered a few colleagues and together they built a database of the major news networks and hundreds of publications throughout the United States and abroad. Like all good professionals, Sacerdote and colleagues provided their findings to the National Bureau of Economic Research. It then published them as a working paper entitled “Why is all Covid-19 news bad news?”
And what did they find? Voilà! Sacerdote was correct.
News reports hyped bad news and disregarded more positive developments. It was not even close. He found that the major news outlets with a national audience – including such newspapers as the New York Times and the Washington Post – were the most one-sided and negative. No surprise there.
In fact, Molly Cook, a co-author of the study said, “The most well-read U.S. media are outliers in terms of their negativity.” That means the Times and Post were waaaaay more negative than other, less prominent, publications.
Another co-author, Ranjan Sehgal, said, “The media is painting a picture that is a little bit different from what the scientists are saying.” (Do I get another “I told you so?”)
They found that 87 percent of the pandemic coverage in the national media was negative. That compared to 51 percent negative in international news, 53 percent in U.S. local media and 64 percent in scientific journals.
So, why are the major news outlets not giving us fair and balanced reports?
Sacerdote and his team confess that they do not know, but maybe … just maybe … the news folks are giving people what they want. In an article in the New York Times, Sacerdote seemed to be letting the news media off the hook.
“Human beings, particularly consumers of major media, like negativity in their stories. We think the major media are responding to consumer demand,” he said. That goes along with the old news media adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.”
But if that were true, why is it only the very liberal national media that so skews to negativity? Don’t local news outlets need to appeal to the same audiences? Also, if that is what we the people want, why do we hold the national news media in such low regard? Why do we have such a distrust of Fourth Estate’s veracity — according to polls.
And what about the international media, which has only a 51 percent negativity rating – half negative, half positive?
In addressing that point Sacerdote makes a verrrrry interesting observation. He speculates that perhaps it is because they — such outlets as Britain’s BBC – receive government funding “potentially making them less focused on consumer demand.” Ponder that for a moment. Government funding makes the news services “less focus on consumer demand.”
Then who does government-funded media focus on? If your first guess is THE GOVERNMENT, you can give yourself a pat on the back. Think about that next time you tune into PBS.
Unfortunately, the report by Sacerdote fails to answer – or even ask – the most significant question. Was all this negativism driven by the political biases of the news outlets? There is no argument that virtually every negative story regarding Covid-19 served as the opening for a criticism of President Trump, Republicans and conservatives.
Also, what would a similar analysis show since the inauguration of President Biden?
I am betting that an empirical statistical analysis would show the reversal in the reporting by the national media from predominantly negative to predominantly positive. After all, everything about the Biden administration is given glowing reviews.
Sacerdote was reluctant to say that the media lied about Covid-19 or had been misleading us intentionally – just a matter of only telling one side of the story. He should be reminded that half of a truth is a lie.
The fellow who wrote a New York Times piece on the report, David Leonhardt, gave his own spin. He said that since the politicians and others always offer the positive side of a story from their perspective, it is necessary for the media to fill in the other side.
No, it is not, David. That is the job of folks on the other side of the issue. And it is your ethical responsibility to present BOTH sides. You are not supposed to cancel, censor or delete positive news or use your platform to proffer for one side. That is prosecutorial propaganda.
I guess in the final analysis, Sacerdote and his colleagues have merely confirmed what virtually every American can see every day. To put it kindly … today’s major media lied about Covid-19 and is untrustworthy as a reliable source of information.
So, there tis.