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Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal brought troubling news about Covid-19 deaths as the paper detailed how they “have reached the highest level since early last year,” emphasizing that the virus “spread wildly through the country and caused record-shattering count cases.”
The Journal article painted a dismaying picture of pandemic America, depicting the Omicron variant that was ravaging a defenseless nation as traveling at a “breakneck speed.” It wasn’t until near the end of the article though, that the newspaper noted, “data have shown that infection rates remain higher among the unvaccinated and that those without shots are significantly more likely to be hospitalized.”
Talk about burying the lede. Wednesday’s Journal headline, “Deaths Highest in Nearly a Year,” would have been more accurate if it had been, “The Unvaccinated Drive Death Surge to New Heights.”
As we approach our third year of the pandemic, here are three key ways the news media are failing the story right now.
1. Conservatives are volunteering to get sick and die.
The Journal piece was a perfect example of how the press is turning away from the pandemic story — tens of millions of Americans who have been fed a mountain of vaccine lies refuse to get inoculated, thereby sacrificing themselves on the altar of right-wing misinformation.
Is it deeply irrational and unprecedented in American history for a large swath of the country to refuse free, safe, and effective vaccines knowing they all run the clear risk of getting sick and dying? It’s not only unheard of for the United States, it’s unparalleled for any nation with an educated population.
Think back twelve, thirteen months ago when the much-anticipated vaccine was going into circulation and thankful first responders and elderly citizens queued up for the shot — did anyone think that one year later nearly four thousand Americans would be dying each day, only because so many refused to take the vaccine?
We knew there would be organized and partisan vaccine skeptics. But key portions of the Republican Party, as well as Fox News’ entire primetime lineup, urging people not to get vaccinated; warning them the shots might kill them? The press never anticipated that type of mass, delusional behavior, and today it’s still not sure how the cover the surreal phenomena that continues to unfold.
Nervous about offending Republicans and Fox News by depicting anti-science conservatives as flat-earth deniers who would rather risk the welfare of themselves and families than get a vaccine (developed under Trump!), the press tiptoes around the obvious insanity.
2. Liberals are not trying to close schools
When the Omicron variant began sweeping through the country late last year, forcing a small percentage of schools to close temporarily because of staff shortages, pundits galvanized around the idea that over-anxious Democrats supported the closures and would pay a political price for shutting down schools again.
Insisting the news was “quite grim for Biden and Dems,” Amy Walter at the Cook Political Report, stressed that new polling showed most parents are more concerned about their children missing out on education than they are about kids getting Covid. But why is that “grim” for Democrats, since Walter cannot point to a single elected Democrat in this country today who is advocating for school closures? As Biden pointed at his press conference last week, 95 percent of schools in America remain open today.
At the New York Times, David Leonhardt propped up the same straw man argument, insisting liberals are being just as illogical about the pandemic as conservatives who refuse to get vaccinated. “Millions of Democrats have decided that organizing their lives around Covid is core to their identity as progressives,” he claimed. Question: Do you know any progressives in 2022 who organize their lives around Covid as a core identity? It’s an absurd, sweeping claim, designed to make liberals look irrational when all they’re doing is getting vaccinated and following common-sense public health guidelines.
Meanwhile, polling clearly undercuts the media’s odd premise that parents today are irate at Democrats because most schools were closed in 2020 when Trump was president. “Surveys have also shown that voters—particularly Democrats and independents—are not holding Democrats responsible for last year’s school closures,” notes Rachel Cohen at The New Republic.
3. Biden cannot stop a global, mutating virus
Assigning four reporters to write a 4,000-word piece on all the “setbacks” President Joe Biden has supposedly suffered while trying to curb the pandemic this year (fact: 85 percent of Americans 12 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine), the Times, like so many other outlets, omitted all context about how every leader around the world has struggled with the same unpredictable virus hurdles. Presenting the pandemic in a silo, the Times report made it seem like if Biden had simply done x, y, and z, the Omicron variant wouldn’t have spread like wildfire across the country.
Worse, the Times piece actually dinged Biden for the GOP’s irrational behavior: “The president tiptoed around an organized Republican revolt over masks, mandates, vaccine passports and even the vaccine itself.”
This isn’t to say that the White House shouldn’t be held accountable for its crisis management during the pandemic, and serious questions were raised about the country’s preparedness regarding testing late last year. What cannot be overlooked though, is the fact that it makes a difference if the president is committed to following science, as Biden is, compared to someone who urged Americans to inject bleach into their veins.
If Covid is a uniquely American problem today, it’s only because one of the two political parties wants it to be.
Covering the pandemic in the U.S. would be so much easier if there weren’t a committed, deep-pocketed propaganda campaign designed to spread nonstop lies. In a strange way, that’s made the topic easier for kids media to cover — they don’t have to deal with misleading adults.
From the new Atlantic piece by Kate Cray, “How 'Sesame Street' Is Handling the Pandemic”:
Despite these hurdles, or perhaps because of them, kids’ media have achieved a level of clarity and directness in their pandemic coverage that can be hard to find in outlets geared toward older audiences. Articles are straightforward because they have to be; it’s the only way kids will understand them. They’re also heavy on context, making few assumptions about what the audience already knows. And though they’re mostly neutral in their tone, many will also acknowledge children’s feelings and soothe them where they can.
FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Kyle Kinane, “Pancakes on the Plane”
Only standup great Kyle Kinane would get seated next a guy who ate pancakes out of a Foot Locker bag, and then have eight priceless minutes of material about it.
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