According to the Media Research Center, while networks ABC, CBS and NBC – known as the “Big Three” – devoted nearly all of the airtime on their evening newscasts on the Wuhan coronavirus from early March to late May, they suddenly dropped their coverage on the pandemic in order to boost airtime for the spate of riots held across the country, before ramping up their coverage of the pandemic once more as the protests subsided.
The three networks’ coverage of the pandemic was split into four distinct phases.
The first phase started on January 17 and ended on March 8. During this time, the networks gave the COVID-19 pandemic steady coverage alongside other news.
Much of the COVID-19 coverage for this period focused on developments in foreign countries, namely China and Italy, as well as the American passengers who found themselves stranded on cruise ships.
During this 52-day period, coronavirus coverage took up an average of 11 minutes of airtime during each of the three networks’ evening newscasts, or roughly 570 minutes, by the end of the period.
By March 9, coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic soon took over the newscasts, with the think tank and media watchdog noting that reportage on the pandemic eclipsed nearly everything else by that point forward.
In fact, the three networks broadcast around 3,896 minutes of coronavirus news, or about 48 minutes per night from March 9 through May 28. This translates to approximately 88 percent of all available airtime, excluding commercials.
The coverage for this period focused on the situation in major cities, the economic damage caused by the pandemic and inspiring stories of individuals who managed to beat the virus and recover.
This was reflected in a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, which found that 70 percent of all adult Americans believe that news organizations have done “very well” when it comes to their reportage on the COVID-19 pandemic.
From May 29 until June 11, however, news and features about the pandemic dipped.
According to the report, ABC, CBS and NBC only aired a total of 137 minutes of coronavirus-related news during that 14-day period, with their focus shifting to protest coverage. When broken down, this meant that the networks only spent 10 minutes on coronavirus updates per night, causing mainstream media’s coronavirus coverage to suffer a 79 percent drop for those two weeks. (Related: Left-wing media that pushes BLM protests and massive black crowds preparing to blame TRUMP rallies for “second wave” of infections.)
However, the three networks quickly doubled the average nightly airtime devoted to the pandemic to more than 20 minutes per night by June 12, with the new phase of the coverage putting emphasis on the rising cases in many U.S. states.
Print media joins in pushing protest narratives
It was not just broadcast media that shifted their sights from the COVID-19 pandemic to the George Floyd protests — printing presses also ran hot, churning out front pages narrating the story of an America grappling not just with the heavy death toll brought about by the coronavirus, but also the long-reaching arm of systemic racism and police brutality.
Major broadsheets such as The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle and Chicago Tribune published inflammatory headlines alongside photos of the violence that ensued from the protests and riots, as collated by The Guardian in a report.
The New York Times, on the other hand, ran a front page with the similarly inflammatory headline “Twin crises and surging anger convulse US” which was accompanied by photographs taken from the protests.
According to journalism and media experts, however, putting focus on the violence and spectacle of a protest rather than its substance might not be the best way to cover the said events.
“How journalists cover protests and social movements matters because the more delegitimizing the coverage is the less likely the public is to support it,” said Summer Harlow, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Houston Jack J. Valenti School of Communication.
Harlow, in a study published in the Journal of Journalism Studies, noted that reporters should focus on the real issues aired by the protestors and not just the violence – especially in the era of social media.
In their study, the researchers found the type of protest, location of protest and type of media outlet were significantly related to whether these stories stuck to the protest paradigm – a pattern of negative coverage that “demonizes” protesters and marginalizes their causes.
This sentiment was also apparent in another, more recent survey by the Pew Research Center, which noted that 44 percent of Americans believe that news coverage on protests have predominantly focused on acts of violence.
Experts: Media plays a crucial role in halting the spread of COVID-19
According to the Infectious Diseases Hub (ID Hub), the media – whether mainstream or independent – plays a major role in potentially containing COVID-19.
In an article published on its website, ID Hub noted that in times of health crises such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the media has the responsibility to be proactive when it comes to stopping the spread of misinformation, stigma and fake news — all of which have the potential to harm the public.
“It is important that trusted media sources don’t just ignore misinformation but attempt to counter it,” Martha Powell, ID Hub editor, said.
Powell, however, added that while it is important for the media to be proactive, they must always be balanced and non-politicized, especially when it comes to reporting health and science in situations that compromise public health.
As of this writing, over 2.4 million individuals have been infected with COVID-19, of which 124,415 have died.