For major media, reporting good news about Covid-19 is a bad thing

And reporting bad news about Covid-19 is a good thing.

This should shock the defenders of the “unbiased” media.

Why Is All COVID-19 News Bad News?” is a National Bureau of Economic Research study that analyzed the tone of COVID-19 related English-language news articles written since January 1, 2020.

What the researchers, Bruce Sacerdote, Ranjan Sehgal and Molly Cook  found was an overwhelming level of negative reporting, even in the face of good news.

  • Ninety one percent of stories by U.S. major media outlets are negative in tone versus fifty four percent for non-U.S. major sources and sixty five percent for scientific journals.
  • The negativity of the U.S. major media is notable even in areas with positive scientific developments including school re-openings and vaccine trials.
  • Media negativity is unresponsive to changing trends in new COVID-19 cases or the political leanings of the audience. U.S. major media readers strongly prefer negative stories about COVID-19, and negative stories in general.
  • Stories of increasing COVID-19 cases outnumber stories of decreasing cases by a factor of 5.5 even during periods when new cases are declining.
  • Among U.S. major media outlets, stories discussing President Donald Trump and hydroxychloroquine are more numerous than all stories combined that cover companies and individual researchers working on COVID-19 vaccines.

To highlight the findings, the authors give us this example: A British publication, the Oxford Mail published a story about how University of Oxford scientists were working on a vaccine that could be rapidly developed–something that the given wisdom at the time said was not possible. That was on February 18.

Not until late April did the major American media–CNN, The New York Times, the Washington Post and even Fox News–pick up this good news story. Even then, the American media put a negative spin on the story:

The U.S. based stories emphasized caveats from health officials and experts downplaying the optimistic timeline and past success of the Oxford researchers. The earliest available (major outlet) U.S. story is from CNN on April 23rd and begins with a quote from England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty saying that the probability of having a vaccine or treatment “anytime in the next calendar year” is “incredibly small.”

Nothing to see here, right?

Particularly timely is the study’s examination of reporting about schools, noting the:

…disconnect between U.S. major media reporting on school reopenings and scientific findings on the same topic; the reporting is overwhelmingly negative, while the scientific literature tells a more optimistic story.

This is especially outrageous because while student infection rates are low– 0.14 percent–90 percent of school reopening articles from U.S. major media are negative, compared with 56 percent in foreign media.

Perhaps some readers will attack the study based on the false assumption that it is pro-Trump. Not so. The researchers could not find a correlation between negativity and political position.

The study supports the common sense warning that American public opinion is misguided and uninformed when it comes to getting the complete story about Covid-19. Especially when it comes to reopening schools.

The study perhaps reveals that the belief in major American newsrooms is that the public wants negative, not positive news. Conflict and nastiness are on the menu and reasons to be hopeful are discarded as “uninteresting.”

If the media think that positive news about vaccines and the novel virus is uninteresting, there’s not much hope that the American media will ever get it right.

Related: Why the overwhelming negative bias denies public the essential contest for making reasoned, well-informed decisions, in “How the media has us thinking all wrong about the coronavirus.”

Filed under: Health, Media

Tags: COVID-19, health reporting


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  • OK. Are you suggesting something sinister here? I haven't done any research on it, but my gut tells me it depends what the pandemic news is. Perhaps the inordinate coverage of good news is that most of the time the pandemic has been spreading rapidly. "Happy talk" was Trump's strategy even when he knew it was not warranted and straight talk was necessary. Trump's "happy talk" has had a lasting harmful effect in that it created millions of Covid deniers in America, who still don't get the gravity of what we are up against.

  • Make that "the inordinate coverage of bad news"

  • Still with more of this stuff about all the precautions that are being taken with school children having the intended effect, therefore, precautions with school children are unnecessary.

  • But how do you know whether or not a customer is satisfied with your service? You can't just guess or assume when it comes to customer ...

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