What drove media coverage of Covid19?
When U.S. President Joe Biden appeared on 60-Minutes last Sunday- in a pre-recorded interview with CBS news correspondent Scott Pelley- most viewers probably expected Covid19 to come up.
It came as a bit of a surprise, however, when President Biden declared the pandemic “over”; adding, “no one is really wearing masks anymore.”
While the President admitted Covid19 would likely still take some work on the part of the Biden Administration, it was his expression of unvarnished optimism which garnered the most media attention.
Immediately, news companies from the New York Times to Politico set up an out-roar, unleashing a barrage of breathless news coverage, desperately trying to claw back President Biden’s words.
But while Mr. Biden’s declaration may have caught corporate news media outlets off-guard, it didn’t surprise everyone in the country. There are many places in the U.S. where life returned, by and large, to pre-Covid19 normal quite some time ago.
Mr. Biden’s other comment- that no one is wearing masks anymore- may have come as quite a shock to those of us still living in certain parts of the country.
On the streets in some cities it’s clear people are indeed still wearing masks- outdoors and in summer- maybe a good many of them, too, depending on the demographics of the district in which you live.
Strangely enough, for the purposes of analyzing Biden’s comment, it is Democratic Party voters who are likely to take the most convincing that the pandemic is indeed over.
Republican voters and those living in more conservative red states have been accused on news and social media of not taking the pandemic seriously enough from the beginning. Conversely, Democratic Party strongholds still have in place some of the most stringent and strict Covid19 mitigation measures in the world.
Nor can it be denied that those living in Democratic areas are most likely to still be seeing a high percentage of masked people in their daily lives. Why this should be, what drove such a stark contrast between red and blue state attitudes on the subject of Covid19 safety precautions is perhaps a question for all the ages.
Philosophers, scientists, historians, poets and religious scholars will have to ponder it decades and centuries from now, long after various biases, logical fallacies, political parity, and questions of expediency have become old and moot.
One factor that certainly must get a prominent mention in any discussion of why blue states are more likely to be abundantly cautious on the subject of Covid safety is the media.
It may be difficult to find a direct correlation between how much corporate news media a person consumes and their level of fear and precaution with regard to Covid19, but there almost certainly is one.
For some reason, as plenty of media commentators on the left have also noted, Democrats tend to rate their level of danger from Covid19 illness, hospitalization, and even death, much higher than the statistical average.
Democrats, increasingly, also tend to be subscribers to the New York Times, watchers of CNN and MSNBC, and more prolific consumers of mainstream media offerings than their more conservative counterparts.
Corporate media companies, usually under the auspices of, “erring on the side of caution,” presented, almost exclusively, the direst possible predictions about Covid19, long Covid, Covid long-haulers, and daily death counts ad infinitum. Doctors and scientists with less dystopian predictions about Covid19 were strangely absent from the airwaves.
Perhaps media companies were doing society and even humanity a great service; scaring the public into taking precautionary measures during a global pandemic isn’t the worst possible motive in the world.
But, is it news?
Media companies who adopted this line of reasoning, if there were any, seem to have fallen into a trap social engineers often run into: Assuming they will be successful.
In some cases, perhaps many, instead of scaring people into submission on Covid19 public health and safety measures, media companies seem to have undermined their own credibility with a wide swath of the public who became, perversely, even less inclined to submit due to these machinations.
The question of what drove corporate media coverage during Covid19 probably shouldn’t be presented as a false dichotomy. The answer is likely a complicated formula involving the motives of profit and public health, along with a half-dozen other motives equally obscure and impenetrable.
There can be little question of corporate media companies being beholden to profit margins, ad-clicks, advertiser revenue, and shareholders. Few, if any, industries are free of the pernicious influences of money and power.
It is also true Covid19 demanded a great deal of media companies. Serving the public good and profitability aren’t always perfectly compatible.
For instance, more nuanced, less alarmist coverage of the political landscape at present would almost certainly be better for the public good and worse for media company profitability.
A 5,000-word think-piece on the risks of outsize corporate influence in late stage capitalism and the role both major political parties have played in its ascendence wouldn’t draw half as many outraged eyeballs as yet another pithy 3-minute hot-take on why democracy is in mortal peril.
Nor would corporate-owned media companies be inclined to explore such a subject as the former.
As soon as billionaire Elon Musk expressed an interest in buying Twitter, billionaires controlling speech on the internet became a threat to the very fabric of democracy.
News media personalities who declared it so, and the social media users who amplified the sentiment, forgot, perhaps; billionaire Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post and billionaire Mark Zuckerberg owns Facebook/Meta.
The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has pumped at least $319 into media companies from NPR to The Atlantic, something the Seattle Times considered a major potential conflict of interest in 2011 but hasn’t written a word about since for some reason.
A dozen obscure forces and factors shaped corporate media coverage when Covid19 first reached these shores; a dozen more will shape Covid19 media coverage as the pandemic becomes endemic and finally “ends” at last.
It might be worth the attention of an objective and critical eye to evaluate and investigate media coverage of Covid19. Overly-sensationalistic news coverage may sell plenty of newspapers, but during a global pandemic, it is akin to price gouging- predatory and exploitative.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)