Over the past two years, this country has not only been at war with COVID-19, but also with itself. Our country has divided itself based on the politically charged beliefs towards the mitigation of the spread of COVID. However, many of these beliefs have stemmed from one sector of U.S. businesses: Major media corporations.
We describe these media firms as businesses because they only tell the stories which will satisfy their viewers, usually pertaining to a certain political party. This is a major issue regarding the regulation of pandemics because the media is concerned with portraying pandemic-related issues in a way that benefits their political and economic agenda instead of focusing on the best ways to keep people healthy and save lives.
The beginning of COVID flooded the media with any and all things related to the virus, but very quickly the media began to focus on related topics such as who to blame or what to fear in the future. Over the next year, 87% of the COVID media published by major U.S. media outlets was considered negative, compared to international and smaller media outlets publishing an average of 56% negatively related topics. When talking about the reality of COVID, New York Times writer David Leonhardt says, “We’re shading it. We are doing a good job telling you why COVID cases are rising in some places and how the vaccines are imperfect — but not such a good job explaining why cases are falling elsewhere or how the vaccines save lives.” The result is people basing their opinions off of media that doesn’t even depict the complete reality of the situation.
Politically polarized news coverage causes issues because of the divide it creates between members of different political parties. This divide results in conflicting ideas about the best ways to deal with the pandemic, thus reducing society’s ability to work together in fighting the virus. For example, if two news networks with different political ideals decide to portray different opinions on the effectiveness of the vaccine, it can decrease people’s willingness to take the vaccine since there are contradicting depictions of the effectiveness and safety of the shot.
P. Sol Hart and fellow researchers write, “When such coverage is both highly politicized and polarized, motivated reasoning and a predisposition of the public to rely on political over scientific views mean that news coverage can amplify partisan differences in risk perceptions and responses to an issue.” Polarization decreases people’s trust in what they hear from the media and this takes away from the credibility of science.
If news networks valued science and facts over politics, more people would be on the same page and act more decisively. The negative impacts of polarized pandemic news were brought to light in a recent interview with Aaron Rodgers, the famous NFL quarterback who was not truthful to his team about receiving the vaccine. Although I don’t support his actions, he spoke out about the over-politicization of the pandemic and how that generated contradicting stories in the news, ultimately implying that he did not trust the things he heard about the vaccine in the media. If the media had portrayed the vaccine according to science instead of politics, people like Rodgers would feel more comfortable/decisive about the vaccine.
News networks favored the political aspects of the pandemic over science and facts, despite the confusion and divide it caused. Instead, news networks should focus on scientific aspects of the pandemic to help people remain healthy.
Matthew Luttenberger is a student at Wesleyan University.