53 Comments

Thanks Eric. I loved the point about social media consumers reading headlines and not the story. Yep, that's a real problem with social media. And the framing of headlines. Same is true of chyrons, that electronically generated caption superimposed on the television screen. (2019 "Trump cuts aid to three Mexican countries").

The community you created here at Press Run are news consumers who learned to read past the headlines, and turn to reliable sources for information. I lost count of how many of your readers recognize the danger of "if it bleeds it leads" headlines. I am sure we will see it again today.

Thank you for the important work here, it helps with all the nonsense we must endure.

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author

thanks Ed, appreciate it. and yes, PR has some incredible astute media consumers.

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Chyron writers: Is there nothing that isn’t Breaking News?

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Which brings me again to Michelle Wolf, 2018 Correspondents Dinner, telling CNN "you win--you broke the news."

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You've summed up my thoughts after I read Eric's post and the more salient comments which followed.

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"endure" is the most appropriate word. thank you.

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I wish that we had some sort of media literacy program in public schools. Reading only the headlines-only is like gluing a Mercedes medallion on a Yugo and thinking you had a lux ride. Even if everyone just had a class writing headlines, it would be an improvement in our media literacy. Headlines ARE hard!

One of the things I wonder about is why (our failed political press) is focused on J&J. This past quarter the stories focused on 1) the delays in FDA approval, 2) the lower efficacy (but not the trade-off with the one-and-done), 3) manufacturing problems (at a subcontractor plant, not with the vaccine’s component parts), and now 4) blood clotting in a statistically minuscule number of cases.

I would almost think that the press owned stock in Pfizer.

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author

i think, as that study noted, the US press does tend to like bad Covid news. Lord knows there was enough under Trump. but i think they still search it out under Biden.

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Yeah, I suppose a story like, “Everything Is Fine” would be dull reading. But it is still completely irresponsible if not malpractice to leave out the context.

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WaPos Jennifer Rubin joins Eric with her recent column and prediction re: the impact the press will have on how the public will react to the J & J pause. Bingo. Sell clicks or help the public/country? How sad that the study Eric cites below confirms what we already knew. Another mark of shame for the negative slants the mainstream press puts on such a serious and impactful story. Ugh.

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the frustrating part is this was such a simple fix: just included number of cases in the headlines. problem solved.

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I've noticed my local station of choice is much more even handed in its coverage of J&J by providing excellent context and balance.

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The press doesn't care what they print as long as it's front page misinformation. We know from the past 4 years how much they cared about truth and the public. Money is their God

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Can it be that it’s designed to distort ie more eyes, whiffs of scandal? So depressing.

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I don't think it is a result of design, it is more an issue of natural selection. Media outlets that provide boring old truths will never compete successfully in an open market with media outlets that attract as much attention as they can, regardless of how they do it.

I find it frustrating, too, but not depressing. Perhaps that is because, rather than confirming my cynicism (leading to depression), it reinforces my philosophy and increases my knowledge, leading to enthusiasm. I'm not trying to sound condescending or smug, I just mean to say I think there is hope.

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Capitalism at work I suppose. If you’re taking a wider view I commend you for it. My long view starts in the 50’s and 60’s pre social media, when there was more seriousness, depth that came with reporting. Guess I’m chasing an idealistic view of the ‘good ole days.’ Better hopeful than cynical for sure.

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Back in the 50s and 60s, news operations weren't expected to generate profit. Excellent news coverage enhanced the prestige of the station/network/paper, and if the coverage happened to generate a profit that was a nice surprise.

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Any newspaper or magazine that didn't generate a profit in the 50s and 60s went out of business. You're thinking only of 3-network television news departments, which were considered "loss leaders". And, not necessarily coincidentally, not taken all that seriously as journalistic enterprises. Certainly the time between Cronkite joining the anti-war movement and Watergate was a Golden Age, a high point of "the news industry". It was also when the checkout counter tabloids had their hayday as well, though.

Everyone wants simple, easy, "good guys and bad guys" narratives. That is the problem, though, not the solution.

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Well said Charlie! Those were the days.

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It wasn't any easier to rale against social ills in the 50s and 60s, but it was easier to be right about it.

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Of course there are people who have a negative perception of the vaccine. The press has deliberately downplayed or ignored the successes while waiting for something toxic and destructive to report. It’s ridiculous and infuriating, and rightwing news consumers are not saveable. They want toxic and destructive. They want validation for Trump and all the other GOP leaders trying to bring this country down. They’d rather drag this pandemic out for years than admit Biden and Democrats are doing a great job and are better for the country, and admit they made a bad choice.

This problem lies squarely on the shoulders of the mainstream media, who refuse to give reality based coverage meant solely to inform about a public health crisis, preferring to amplify rightwing talking points of scandal, anxiety and fear.

Excellent song choice today. We will succeed in this, in spite of them.

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You said it best Eric! "It was a bit ironic Tuesday to watch reporters repeatedly press White House officials at the daily media briefing about whether the J&J pause will increase vaccine hesitancy, while never addressing the role the press might play in that phenomenon" Let's scare the bejesus out of those vaccine hesitant people out there. MORONS.

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that's the sad part, this "pause" and the lack of context really played into the hand of Fox News.

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Which was the point, don’t you think? The media wants this controversy.

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sadly, that might drive some of this. Yes

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Antivaxxer sites are running with the misinformation.

Which is what Republicans and their CCCP stooges want.

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The press are such alarmists. Where in their reporting is the fact that blood clots in people in general occur much more often than 6 out of seven million? I'm not saying that the CDC is wrong for pausing the vaccines. The fact that they have, as Dr. Fauci pointed out this morning on MSNBC, shows how the CDC and the pharmaceutical companies are concerned about public safety. But yet the press is raising concerns in such a way that it feeds into the anti-vaxxer narrative. I'm sure this is on purpose because for far too long, the press is not interested in real information, just using fear to drive sales or in today's world, as many clicks as possible.

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That was exactly what I was saying when several countries in Europe paused AstraZeneca because of the same side effect. (It seems the issue is with the 'carrier vaccines' but not 'mRNA vaccines'). But it turns out that although "blood clots" in general are more common, these particular blood clots in the brain are less frequent in the rest of the population. This could be related to the neurological effects of COVID ("brain fog" and perhaps the loss of taste and smell) that are still not understood.

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Yes. "News" becomes a product or commodity, and part of the equation for making a profit. Like healthcare. Healthcare will never work as a "product," yet here we are.

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News does not "become" a product or commodity, it has always been that. The producers have just gotten a lot more effective at delivering what people actually want, which is something exciting rather than something boring. And doctors, nurses, and hospitals need to get paid, so adopting communism doesn't magically make health care non-commercial, either.

I see the problem with breathless reporting about the 'pause' and the assumption that capitalism is optional as one and the same, quite frankly. They both indicate the problem is a desire for easy answers, and a complicated dichotomy between the easy answer of "just look at the data and agree with me" from science and the easy answer of "the data proves nothing because of the problem of induction" from philosophy.

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Press is also always on high alert.

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I use to consume a ton of news passively. Before I discovered you on Twitter I would scream into the ether with the constant “both sides” like yesterday when John Boehner tried that sh*t like Bolton before him. Regarding J&J, I did see this statistic today: “the risk of blood clots on a flight: 1 in 6000

The risk of blood clots with the J&J vaccine < 1 in 1 million”. Perspective! Man, oh man! Eric, you’ve helped me to be more critical in my analysis since news is flying at us so fast!

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author

I’m glad I can help!

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As Ezra Klein said on Twitter: "Is it possible that the FDA is going to increase vaccine hesitancy here, rather than lower it? Definitely.

Let's say, in three days, they clear J&J totally. Will that get the news coverage the pause did? Will it fully end the fears the public now has? I doubt it."

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Not to state the obvious but the former guy started all this craziness with his propaganda about EVERYTHING. So as a result, here we/PR are trying to figure out the best way for the media to report to/convince people who are hesitant to get shots to get them despite how the press reports the J&J pause. But let’s not forget the context and the origins of this mess; we know who spawned the lies, fed the anger. Now we’re here trying to do our due diligence and pick up the pieces of division, distrust and fear that lay in his/their wake. Yuck.

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We already went through this entire cycle when Europe paused the AstraZeneca vaccine. As far as I know, it was even the exact same side effect, and yet no stories I've seen or heard (including this one!) even mentioned it, let alone noted that the pause had ended.

Sensationalism sells, and news is a commercial commodity. I'm not sure if blaming media for producing what people are buying (or, more specifically, what advertisers know people are looking at) is enough, though I can't generally fault your efforts, Eric. But I think the real problem is much, much deeper than the "information ecosystem". (Or is that "echosystem"? 😉)

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Are you a Covaids vaxx skeptic?

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I usually find your commentary so insightful but really think you missed the train on this one. The extreme rarity of the possible side effects from the J&J vaccine is exactly the point that many journalists (and regular people who want to be safe from the pandemic and to save lives worldwide) are emphasizing to question this decision, which seems extraordinarily extreme given the scenario. Were there not other options, such as warning doctors to watch out for this rare issue while continuing to offer the vaccine and noting there is no sign of any issues with men or anyone over 65? Asking how many people won't get the J&J vaccine or any vaccine at all because of this "pause" is not anti-vaxxer. It's common sense and public health officials absolutely should take it into account when making their decisions.

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i'm not really questioning the pause, more asking why headlines didn't include "six cases" in order to put the halt in better context.

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A headline that included "six cases" would simply reinforce the misinformation by highlighting that there were *multiple* cases; people who are looking for excuses not to get jabbed are not thinking "rationally" to begin with. There really isn't any way to report on 'one in a million' side effects that would not provide an excuse for 'vaccine hesitency', even if that very phrase, "one in a million" was used. I suppose an exception would be to [truthfully] report that there were "almost no cases", but the headline "J&J vaccinations paused because of almost no cases of side effects" would be confusing. 😉

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founding

Thanks so much for pointing this out. I read today that the normal rate of these kinds of clots is around 13 to 20 per million and that most happen in younger women so there is no evidence that we are seeing more than the usual occurrences.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/08/200826161338.htm

The rate for blood clots after the Astrazeneca vaccine is also extremely low — — around .000095 according to what I read in The Guardian.

The pause is clearly happening because of public perception, not science, and that perception has been driven by the media. In fact the media aided and abetted the anti-vaxxer movement in its early days by giving a platform to people like Jenny McCarthy despite no evidence that the measles vaccine caused autism but not giving any attention to the very serious dangers of measles. As a result few people realize how many kids were/are seriously harmed or killed by that disease. There are older people alive today who were blinded by measles — fact measles is still the leading cause of blindness in children in unvaccinated populations. There are others who lost friends or family members to encephalitis caused by measles. I had a classmate who suffered permanent brain damage from that. Why not interview those people instead of just interviewing parents of kids with autism who blamed the vaccine?

It astounds me that so many top journalists are so mathematically illiterate. Relative risk is not a difficult concept to grasp yet most seem to either have no clue or to be deliberately hyping a story. They also repeatedly confuse correlation with causation.

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T-Eight non-US countries have so far fully suspended the AstraZeneca vaccinations; yet as you point out the risk is extremely low. Here in the US we have an active dis-information right-wing machine, as well as anti-vaxxer population and so it is hard to say what might work.

I has the measles when I was 7, ahem, some time ago. I remember being in the darkened living room for at least a week. And I remember how afraid my entire family was, believing if anyone moved the sun-blocking curtain or accidently switched on the light I could be blind.

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I was 6 years old when I got the measles. Laid me in bed for 3 weeks in a darkened room. The 1962 strain really hit my 2nd grade class. At one point my teacher only had 4 kids out of 30 coming to class. When I got back to school one classmate had died from cerebral hemorrhages and another one was blinded.

Remember when my home town mandated that EVERYONE had to take the Sabin oral polio vaccine. They opened the high school and everyone took the Sabin vaccine which was dripped on a sugar cube. the only clown who refused were the Birchers who picketed...until the police forced them to take the vaccine...

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founding

I remember getting the polio vaccine at school and also getting the TB skin test. We didn’t have a lot of Birchers or they were very vocal although I do remember the fit they pitched over fluoridating water. They claimed it was a communist plot.

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Thanks Joe.

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My three brothers and I (8, 6, 5, & 3) all had the measles that year. We shared a bedroom (two bunk beds!) and Mom pulled the shades on all the windows. I remember they closed school for a couple of days because almost three-quarters of the student body was out sick. I don't remember losing anybody to the measles, but we did find out later that several local students wound up sterile from the mumps that came around a year or two after that.

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founding

And your family was right to be afraid you could go blind.

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including "1 in a million side effect" or "super rare brain lood clot" would definitely be clickier than leaving them out, at least IMHO as a ink-stained wretch of many years standing. "6 cases" would also be clickier because numbers in general are clickier than no numbers. but would be tough to include 6 cases in this headline because it offers no context without including 7 million jabs

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I think the point is that the Headlines were poorly presented, giving an impression that shades the overall picture. The idea that a majority of the people declining the vaccine are also the ones who don't read beyond the headers, use social media as a prime source of information and are indifferent to facts that contradict their preconceived beliefs has merit. The major outlets, once again went for the clicks. Not helpful, given the fact of the tragedy of this pandemic that we all hope will be soon past.

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founding

I had to read several articles to find out what the actual rate of occurrence was and even more before I could find the usual rate of occurrence in the general population. Television reports weren’t much better for the most part. So it is not just the headline writers who are the problem.

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