Can we count on media outlets to spread good news about Covid19 as enthusiastically as they did the bad?
“We still have a problem with COVID,” President Joe Biden told 60 Minutes frankly on Sunday evening. “We’re still doing a lot of work on it, but the pandemic is over.”
“If you notice, no-one’s wearing masks,” the President continued. “Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape…I think it’s changing.”
Mr. Biden’s seemingly unscripted remark hit the commentariat and media classes very hard.
“Biden Says the Pandemic is Over,” howled the New York Times immediately. “But at Least 400 People Are Dying Daily.”
“The president made the remark in an interview that aired on CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday night,” the paper of record stated. “By Monday, the backlash was in full swing.”
The NYT was right about the backlash. At the bottom of the article, however, the Times inadvertently shows its hand:
“F.A.Q.: What is long Covid? Do I need a booster shot if I’ve had Covid? What do I need to know about vaccinating my toddler? Here are the answers to your nagging questions.”
“At Home: When someone in your house tests positive for Covid, there are some guidelines you should follow- including for when you test negative but develop symptoms.”
“Covid Treatments in N.Y.C.: Antiviral pills and monoclonal antibodies are available across the city. Find out how to get them.”
“Immunity and Reinfection: Exposure to the coronavirus- through vaccination or infection- does not mean that you are completely protected from future infections. Here is what to know about Covid immunity and reinfection risks.”
Reading between the lines, the subtext is hard to miss: For the New York Times, and subscribers still firmly in the grips of a full-scale public health emergency, the Covid19 pandemic is far from over.
And the Covid19 vaccination rate among toddlers is extremely low.
NPR took President Biden’s news even harder: “How Biden’s declaring the pandemic ‘over’ complicates efforts to fight COVID.”
“The president’s comments come as public heath officials are trying to convince Americans to get a new booster shot, and as the White House has worked unsuccessfully for months to convince Congress to provide more than $22 billion in new funding for the COVID-19 response,” NPR complained bitterly. “Since Sunday night, Republicans have already used his words to question vaccine mandates that are still in place for the nation’s military and other federally funded programs.”
“At the same time, nearly 400 Americans are dying each day of COVID, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” NPR added, echoing the Times.
“Biden declared the pandemic ‘over’,” wrote Politico in a similar vein. “His Covid team says it’s more complicated.”
“Biden’s ‘60 Minutes’ remarks surprised his own health advisers, and came as the administration seeks more Covid response funding,” Politico almost snarked.
“Explainer: Biden said the pandemic is over,” wondered Reuters, betraying just a hint of mystification. “Is it?”
“The United States is still operating under the public health emergency, first declared in January 2020,” the news outlet pointed out in its usual clinical fashion. “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is expected to renew that designation in October but then let the public health emergency expire in January 2023.”
“President Biden Says the Pandemic Is Over,” squawked Time Magazine. “What Does That Mean?”
“Is the Pandemic ‘Over’? Biden Says So, But Scientists Say That’s Up for Debate,” is the official FactCheck.org line on the subject.
Astute readers can’t help but note the stark contrast: For media companies, the worst possible angles on the pandemic, the direst available predictions of doom, were rarely up for debate, even if there were always plenty of scientists willing to do so.
Under the laudable auspices of “following The Science”, media companies somehow still just happened to amplify- so consistently as to be exclusive- only those public health experts and scientists who, coincidentally, always took the grimmest view of Covid19.
The role corporate media outlets, social media companies, and other various would-be arbiters of the public good have played in shaping public attitudes about Covid19 safety measures cannot perhaps be overstated.
What role will they play in the end of the pandemic, if any? And will it be commensurate with the amount of lede time they all devoted to terrifying Covid19 predictions?
Whether these news and social media outlets were motivated by a purely altruistic commitment to public health and the greater good, or by the profitable web traffic funneled into their ad silos by click-bait and fear mongering, we shall perhaps soon see.
The pandemic will, at some point now or in the future, end. What cannot go on forever has to close out eventually.
When that time comes, news and social media outlets will need to devote at least as much air-time undoing the terror their more sensationalistic coverage inspired as they spent inspiring terror in the first place.
Otherwise, the true motivations of news and social media companies might seem a bit suspect.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)