Study Finds Pervasive Negativity in Media Coverage of CCP Virus

November 30, 2020 Updated: December 2, 2020

A deep-dive analysis of major media coverage of the CCP virus—also known as the novel coronavirus—by three Ivy League analysts found that virtually all stories on the issue since January have been negative.

“Ninety-one percent of stories by U.S. major media outlets are negative in tone versus 54 percent for non-U.S. major sources and 65 percent for scientific journals,” according to the study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

“The negativity of the U.S. major media is notable even in areas with positive scientific developments, including school re-openings and vaccine trials,” wrote the authors, Dartmouth College economics professor Bruce Sacerdote, Dartmouth economic research scholar Ranjan Sehgal, and Brown University student assistant Molly Cook.

The three scholars examined more than 20,000 stories published in major media outlets such as The New York Times, Fox News, The Washington Post, CNN, and The Wall Street Journal since Jan. 1.

The negative reporting was especially marked in stories on the prospects for developing anti-CCP virus vaccines, and the economic, medical, and social tolls on children and adults of lockdowns on businesses, schools, churches, and social activities.

“The tone of media coverage impacts both human health and attitudes towards preventative measures including vaccination, mask-wearing, and social distancing,” the study said, citing five separate analyses, including four done in 2020 and one in 2015.

“The proportion of U.S. adults who exhibit depression symptoms has risen threefold since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In discussing this increase in mental health problems, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against heavy consumption of news stories about the pandemic.

“Our results suggest the CDC’s warning is prescient.”

As an example, the authors cited the first story published in March reporting that Oxford University researchers could develop a vaccine much more quickly than the two to five years typically required.

That story, and most of those that followed in U.S. major media on progress in vaccine development, “emphasized caveats from health officials and experts downplaying the optimistic timeline and past success of the Oxford researchers,” the study said.

A notable recent exception to the negative reporting is a Nov. 28 CNN report on the vaccine jointly developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford researchers.

“In the days since Oxford University and AstraZeneca unveiled the results of the partnership’s Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trials, a growing number of questions have emerged,” the CNN report said.

“The stated 70 percent average efficacy was significantly lower than the 94.5 percent to 95 percent reported by the other two leading candidates, Moderna and Pfizer.

“Yet, this vaccine could still prove to be more valuable for the world than the other two in the coming months. If the questions over its results are answered and it receives approval, it may lead the way in providing vaccine coverage in poorer countries where it is urgently needed.

“The UK government took the first step in that approval process on Friday, announcing that it had formally referred the candidate to the UK’s medicines regulator for assessment.”

In the same fashion, despite multiple independent studies published in 2020 that found reopening schools didn’t contribute significantly to spreading the disease, the NBER study found that “90 percent of school reopening articles from U.S. mainstream media are negative, versus only 56 percent for the English-language major media in other countries.”

Rep. Steve Budd (R-N.C.) told The Epoch Times on Nov. 30 that he sees a link between the negativity documented by the study and opposition among major media journalists to President Donald Trump.

“The media often preys on people’s fears and divisions and that’s what this study shows. That’s the case in Washington, where most of the positive, bipartisan items that pass Congress are ignored by the mainstream media because that would impact their narratives,” Budd said.

“Our country is strong and resilient, but I suspect that any positivity about the pandemic would make President Trump look good and, therefore, it was not featured in liberal media outlets. This study shows that, once again, the media clings to a narrative more than they focus on facts.”

Veteran Washington political advocacy strategist Grover Norquist told The Epoch Times the same pattern of disconnection between major media reporting and reality in CCP virus reporting is seen on other issues.

“The establishment press tried to trash the tax cut; the economy flourished. Then Russiagate; that fizzled. Then they doubled down on the virus and that only worked if they ignored China, and Trump’s quick development of the vaccines that were known to work and be on track months before the election,” Norquist said.

“Thus, the news was which state has seen an uptick. Deaths down, focus on hospitalizations up. Hospitalizations down, focus on positive tests up.”

Norquist’s comment mirrored one of the study’s findings, that “the time pattern in observed negativity is at most weakly related to the actual time trend in new weekly cases of COVID-19 in the U.S.”

The study also concluded that “the most popular stories in The New York Times have high levels of negativity, particularly for COVID-19-related articles.”

The study concluded by noting that “U.S. major media stories that discuss the benefits of social distancing or alternatively the benefits of mask-wearing are less numerous than stories about President [Donald] Trump not wearing a mask.”

Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL), one of the few surgeons in the House of Representatives, told The Epoch Times that major media bombard the public “with figures that are sensationalized to fit a narrative. The media has been headlining the total number of ‘cases’ (positive test results) throughout the year rather than sharing the numbers we need to focus on to understand the actual risks of this disease.”

The more important numbers, Dunn explained, are “how many individuals currently have significant clinical COVID-19? How many are hospitalized? How many are in the ICU? Do our hospitals and ICUs have the capacity to handle the influx? What is the true mortality rate of infection in different groups?”

Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc