Mar 14

Covid Nation — press shrugs as Biden restores "normalcy”

Covid cases evaporate

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Eric Boehlert
Fearless media commentary
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The media’s goalpost moving on Covid has become exhausting.

For months, the press hammered President Joe Biden for not returning “normalcy” to America, especially as the Omicron variant surged. Thankfully, new cases have fallen 95 percent from a peak of 800,000. In New York City, which got pummeled by the surge, officials now count fewer than 700 new infections each day, down 99 percent from the winter spike. The pandemic is not over (Barack Obama just tested positive), but the news is mostly good these days. That’s why so many mask mandates have been lifted nationwide, and virtually all schools are open.

What’s the media’s response to that long-awaited turn for the better? They shrug and move on. Instead of celebrating and crediting the Biden administration, returning towards normalcy has instead stirred “disappointment, frustration and queasy ambivalence,” according to a New York Times front-page piece on Sunday. Using anecdotes only, the article suggested that lots of residents in “Covid cautious cities” are reluctant to return to normal.

Talk about heads you lose, tails you lose. The Times somehow managed to frame Covid’s rapid decline in the U.S as upsetting news. (People are “bewildered.”) Can you imagine the coverage today if cases under Biden were still rising?

The press, which treated Covid as the most important news event for two years and hung it around Biden’s neck like a political anchor for the last nine months, suddenly thinks gas prices in the U.S. represents a bigger news story.

Americans have noticed the welcome Covid developments. Eight in ten acknowledge we are in a better place than we were a year ago. Approval for Biden’s handling of the pandemic jumped eight points in the most recent NPR poll. And Google searches of “Covid,” a good indication of public anxiety, are now at their lowest point of the two-year pandemic. (85 percent of Americans 12 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine.)

For months this winter, the press was adamant Covid represented the defining issue of the Biden administration. It was the “central crisis” according to NPR. Added Puck, “Presidencies are just as defined by events beyond one’s control as they are by promises, and the primary culprit for Biden’s woes is an unmistakable five-letter word that would slot nicely into the first row of a morning Wordle: COVID.”

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CNN not long ago demanded Biden address his Covid “crisis,” stressing that the pandemic had led to a sense “that events at home and abroad are cascading out of control.” Covid this year spurred, “growing doubts over whether [Biden] can fulfill his promise to solve problems,” according to the network.

When the U.S. economy added nearly 700,000 new jobs in February, Politico announced it represented a “rare spot of bright news” for Biden’s “mired” presidency. Apparently, Covid cases plummeting to pandemic lows in 2022 doesn’t constitute a “bright” spot.

Today as infections plunge, the topic has virtually disappeared. “Covid” mentions on cable news during the first two weeks of March are down nearly 90 percent compared to the first two weeks of January, according to TVeyes. (References dropped nearly 95 percent on CNN, from 1,170 to 85.)

It’s true that the mainstream media are more interested in relaying bad news vs. good news, simply because it’s more compelling and likely more alluring to news consumers. But the Covid coverage represents a telling example of how an issue that the press itself claimed would define the Biden administration gets translated into no news when it turns towards positive territory. Look for the same look-away coverage when gas prices and inflation eventually go down.

Some might argue that Covid coverage has been thinned out because there’s an unprecedented land invasion taking place in Ukraine and the media are rightly focusing their time and resources on that life-and-death story. That argument would ring true if the same press corps — and especially TV news — didn’t lose its mind last week with its around-the-clock gas price coverage. ‘Breathless’ barely begins to describe the relentless, hyperbole-laced reportage that has dominated the airwaves in recent days.

In that environment, the good news about Covid — and the good news for the White House — has been treated as an afterthought.

Ukraine bumped lots of stories off the front page and off the airwaves, including Covid’s sharp decline in America. Still, the press made sure to carve out oceans of space to constantly remind news consumers that gas prices are up, and that is trouble for Biden. Over that same, recent seven-day period, “gas” was mentioned a total 1220 times on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, compared to “Covid” being referenced just 205 times.

The salivating press lost touch with context and reality, last week treating the bloody, murderous war in Ukraine as being just slightly more pressing than the fact Americans are paying $10 more each week at the gas pump. (Fox News: 720 “Kyiv” mentions, 605 “gas” references.)

Covid remains a hugely important story today and should be covered that way, even if most of the news is good.

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(Photo: Jim Watson/Getty Images)

🇷🇺 GOOD STUFF:

Kinda says it all.

From Mother Jones’ “Leaked Kremlin Memo to Russian Media: It Is “Essential” to Feature Tucker Carlson”:

The document—titled “For Media and Commentators (recommendations for coverage of events as of 03.03)”—was produced, according to its metadata, at a Russian government agency called the Department of Information and Telecommunications Support, which is part of the Russian security apparatus. It was provided to Mother Jones by a contributor to a national Russian media outlet who asked not to be identified. The source said memos like this one have been regularly sent by Putin’s administration to media organizations during the war. Independent media outlets in Russia have been forced to shut down since the start of the conflict. 

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🎸 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

Caamp, “Believe”

Finally.

After nearly a year-long delay, this magnetic rock trio from Ohio have a release date for their new album. “Believe” is the first single and it’s glorious, in an understated Caamp kind of way.

I believe in you baby
And I'll always be around
I believe in you baby
I won't let you hit the ground

🎙 Click here to listen to the music that’s been featured on PRESS RUN, via Apple Music.