Bad News Bias

Bad News Bias(ˈbīəs)

The U.S. media is offering a different picture of Covid-19 from science journals or the international media, a study finds.

By David(ā) Leonhardt

Bruce Sacerdote(ˌsasərˈdōt), an economics(ˌekəˈnämiks) professor at Dartmouth College, noticed something last year about the Covid-19 television coverage(ˈkəv(ə)rij) that he was watching on CNN and PBS. It almost always seemed negative, regardless of what was he seeing in the data or hearing from scientists he knew.

When Covid cases were rising in the U.S., the news coverage emphasized(ˈemfəˌsīz) the increase. When cases were falling, the coverage instead focused on those places where cases were rising. And when vaccine(vakˈsēn) research began showing positive results, the coverage downplayed it, as far as Sacerdote could tell.

But he was not sure whether his perception(pərˈsepSH(ə)n) was correct. To check, he began working with two other researchers, building a database of Covid coverage from every major network, CNN, Fox News, Politico, The New York Times and hundreds of other sources, in the U.S. and overseas. The researchers then analyzed it with a social-science technique that classifies language as positive, neutral(ˈn(y)o͞otrəl) or negative.

The results showed that Sacerdote’s instinct had been right — and not just because the pandemic has been mostly a grim(ɡrim) story.