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Letter: When It Comes To Covering Coronavirus, The News Media Can’t Chew Gum

“Many tune out rather than hear yet umpteen spins on the same story …”

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Dear Editor,

No one doubts the COVID-19 situation is serious. No one should ignore the need to practice social distancing, curtail going out in public, frequent hand washing, and other common sense measures to avoid contracting the novel coronavirus. That being said, for the news media and all the Chicken Littles out there, the sky is not falling!

The news media again (but at unprecedented levels for even them) has proven it cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. COVID-19 coverage is not just the lone subject matter for newspapers, television news, and social media outlets; it’s a flat out obsession. To hell with objective perspective. Let’s make this recurring global viral situation into an existential threat to all humanity and life as we know it. Let’s hyperventilate, sensationalize, amplify and emotionalize anecdotal cases, and report on COVID-19 and only on COVID-19 all the time!

Never do you see or hear news accounts that show how unlikely you are to contract the virus or, if you do, the even higher unlikelihood you’ll be hospitalized or die from coronavirus-related illnesses. Oh, no…that would not sell newspapers, or increase ratings, or add to social media clicks. Today’s news media doesn’t inform the public as much as it adds to the public’s anxiety level.

For instance, in my rural home county, exactly 0.03 percent of the population has tested positive (as of 4/4/20) for the coronavirus…yes, 3/100ths of one percent … and we have the highest number of cases among four surrounding rural counties. No one has died from COVID-19 in these four counties. And yet the media and the clucks coming from the Chicken Little coop want us to believe the apocalypse is upon us.

In South Carolina as well, exactly .03 percent of our 5,148,714 citizens have tested positive. Even if we reach DHEC’s projections of the number of positive cases expected in the coming month (which doesn’t take into account the social distancing measures in place), precisely 0.156 percent ….yes, slightly more than 1/10th of one percent…will have tested positive.

Indeed while a few dozen folks have passed away due to coronavirus-related incidents, far more South Carolinians die each year from other diseases or events like heart disease (10,418), cancer (10,356), accidents (3,147), drug overdoses (1,008), suicides (838), or homicides (444). [countyhealthrankings.org for the year 2017]  

And rarely does the news media report that the CDC now says 98.5 percent of those who test COVID-19 positive will recover or that DHEC says only 23 percent of positive-tested South Carolinians are hospitalized and that five times more people with symptoms test negative than those who test positive.

But the news media can take a number like 8,000 U.S. deaths from coronavirus out of context and that sounds so horribly terrific. They don’t mention in a nation of 328,000,000 people that’s 0.002 percent of the U.S. population.

Imagine the news that is not being reported now by the media. Did all the stories they were so closely scrutinizing two months ago just dissipate into nothingness? No, they’re just going unreported. Because the editors, assignment desks, and reporters are consumed with COVID-19, we are left in the dark about other meaningful news. The news media can’t chew gum and walk at the same time … it’s all COVID-19 all the time or nothing … and they don’t even realize their over-coverage brings with it reader and viewer fatigue … that many tune out rather than hear yet umpteen spins on the same story.

It’s not fake news, it’s monolithic news … one story incessantly covered … there is no world beyond COVID-19.

Walt Inabinet
Bamberg, S.C.
[email protected]

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FROM THE EDITOR …

Walt: Thank you for providing this perspective. I appreciate you for providing it, and I also appreciate you holding us accountable for how we do our jobs during this chaotic time.

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