US Media Coverage Of Coronavirus Skews Overwhelmingly Negative Compared To International Sources

Michael LeeDecember 3, 20207min
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Research shows U.S. media outlets have covered the coronavirus pandemic far more negatively than international media sources, irrespective of any positive developments on vaccines or declining case numbers.

“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 perfecent for scientific journals,” reads the working paper’s abstract. “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.”

The paper, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research last week and written by Dartmouth College scholars Bruce Sacerdote and Ranjan Sehgal along with Brown University’s Molly Cook, analyzed over 20,000 news reports from the 15 top U.S. media outlets and 39 international sources. Overall, they conclude that “U.S. major media outlets are much more negative” when publishing similar stories to “non-U.S. sources.”

As an example of the negativity bias in U.S. major media reporting, researchers point to a Feb. 18 Oxford Mail story about the rapid vaccine development taking place at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute by Professor Sarah Gilbert.

“In contrast to Oxford Mail’s reporting, the U.S. major media outlets of Fox News, CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post did not begin coverage of Professor Gilbert’s COVID-19 related work until late April,” the authors note. “The U.S. based stories emphasized caveats from health officials and experts downplaying the optimistic timeline and past success of the Oxford researchers.”

The researchers pointed out that the first major U.S. media outlet to pick up the story was CNN on April 23, but the outlet began the story with quotes from England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warning that the probability of having a successful vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 “anytime in the next calendar year” is “incredibly small.”

“There is a similar 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,” the researchers wrote.

The paper cites a study on school reopenings and COVID-19 infections that found “infection rates among students remain low” and that “schools have not become the super-spreaders many feared.” The researchers note that an analysis of the available evidence painted a similar story, yet 90% of “school reopening articles from U.S. mainstream media are negative versus only 56 percent” of foreign media coverage.

“The tone of media coverage impacts both human health and attitudes towards preventative measures including vaccination, mask wearing, and social distance,” the authors wrote. “The proportion of U.S. adults who exhibit depression symptoms has risen threefold since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic.”

The authors note that even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a recommendation against “heavy consumption of news stories about the pandemic.”

“Our results suggest the CDC’s warning is prescient,” the authors wrote. “COVID-19 stories published by the top 15 U.S. media outlets (by readership/viewership) are 25 percentage points more likely to be negative in content than more general U.S. sources or major media outlets outside the U.S.”

The researchers also found that negative stories about President Trump and the pandemic were much more likely to be published than stories about positive developments or the benefits of measures aimed at slowing viral spread.

“U.S. major media stories that discuss the benefits of social distancing or alternatively the benefits of mask wearing are less numbers than stories about President Trump not wearing a mask,” the researchers wrote. “Similarly, the terms ‘Trump and hydroxychloroquine’ receive more media coverage than do all stories about companies and researchers developing vaccines.”

The paper found that “mentions of COVID-19 vaccines” or “any names of the top ten institutions or companies working on” a vaccine were mentioned in 1,371 stories. But during the same time period, the researchers found “8,756 stories involving Trump and mask wearing and 1,636 stories about Trump and hydroxychloroquine.”

While the data collected for the paper was before Pfizer announced its successful stage three trial on Nov. 9, the researchers note that “U.S. major media gave much less positive coverage to the developments that lead up to Pfizer’s breakthrough.”

Overall, we are unable to explain the variation in negativity with political affiliation of an outlet’s audience, or U.S. case count changes, but we do find that U.S. readers demand negative stories,” the authors wrote. “We conclude that the CDC’ implicit ‘warning label’ against consuming too much U.S. COVID-19 media may be warranted.”

Author : Michael Lee

Source : Washington Examiner : US media coverage of coronavirus skews overwhelmingly negative compared to international sources: Study