COVID Covered Differently Across Channels

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By Dan Gerardi

I took a look at five different news websites to see how their coverage of COVID-19 differed.

For the last two months, the coronavirus pandemic has completely dominated the American news cycle. With coronavirus being pretty much the only news story being covered, different news outlets have found different ways to cover the pandemic. Some lean left, some lean right, but most news outlets tailor their coverage to fit their viewers and readers. I took a look at five different news outlets at roughly the same time on the same day, Thursday, April 23, to see how the coverage differs between news outlets. I also spoke with my Mom Mary, my Dad Michael, and my sister Kathryn, to get their thoughts on how the pandemic is being covered.

''' The first news outlet I looked at was CNN. CNN is known for leaning left in most of their coverage, and the coronavirus pandemic was no exception to this. CNN.com's top story on April 23 was about racist tweets that were deleted by the Health and Human Services Spokesman. I did not think this was a surprising top story to find on CNN since it is criticizing the credibility of a spokesman within the Republican Trump administration. The front page of CNN's website also featured articles about how the pandemic affected prominent Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Maxine Waters. Warren's brother unfortunately passed away from COVID-19. I was also not surprised to see these articles featured since they discussed the pandemic's effects on two very prominent women within the Democratic party. This is something CNN's viewers and readers would be interested in hearing about. Another featured article on their website discussed how House Democrats were calling for an investigation into the firing of a Trump administration official who oversaw the purchasing of vaccines. This story was similar to their top story since it also criticized the Trump administration and the people it put in place to handle the pandemic. The final story I saw featured prominently on their website was the only one that did not have to do with coronavirus. It was a list of potential candidates Democratic presidential front runner Joe Biden could choose as his running mate. This article was a good one to include because it takes a break from the coronavirus to talk about the election, something CNN's primarily Democratic readers are certainly invested in. My Mom said she believes the pandemic has taken some of the focus away from the election. Overall CNN's top stories were very indicative of their leftward lean, and they mostly blamed the Trump administration for problems the country is having handling the pandemic. They talked about its effect on Democrats and even included the article about Biden's potential vice presidential picks to remind their readers about the importance of this fall's election and ensure it does not get lost amid nonstop coronavirus coverage.

''' Next, I looked at Fox News. Fox News is known for usually leaning to the right. I found that they too primarily stuck along these lines with their coronavirus coverage. The top story on Foxnews.com talked about how New York antibody tests may show that more people had COVID-19 than they previously thought. I was also not surprised to find this top story on Fox News since they have supported President Trump's handling of the pandemic, and have blamed most problems on the states. Foxnews.com also featured a video criticizing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's response to protestors amid the pandemic. Their coverage was very New York focused partly because it has become the global epicenter of the pandemic, but also because Fox News can place the blame for any of New York's problems on its Democratic Governor Cuomo, and Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. This is smart by Fox News because it is what their readers most want to hear – that President Trump has done a good job and other Democratic lawmakers are mostly responsible for problems in dealing with the pandemic. My Dad, however, said he wishes coverage was not so New York focused. One article on their website's front page that I found intriguing was about Democratic Representative Karen Whitsett from Michigan who recovered from COVID-19 and says she supports the President's efforts. Whitsett went on to say Americans should put politics aside, stop attacking President Trump and work together during the pandemic. Her message is one that would be receptive to both Democrats and Republicans. In the way that it was framed, I got the sense that Fox News felt they were giving her a national voice to say Democrats should stop attacking President Trump and focus on the country's needs during the pandemic. One last noteworthy article I saw featured on Foxnews.com was about Vice President Mike Pence saying coronavirus could largely be behind us by the end of May.' Whether the reader agrees with this statement or not is not the point of including this article near the top of their website. This article is meant to show Fox News's primarily right leaning readers that things are going well for the Trump administration in their handling of the pandemic. It is also meant to portray Vice President Pence in a positive light as the leader of President Trump's Coronavirus Task Force. Both CNN and Fox News showed their bias in their COVID-19 coverage.' My sister, Kathryn, said these biases have become more noticeable over the last few years. Foxnews.com's top stories all showed their lean to the right. They supported President Trump's leadership during the coronavirus and blamed Democratic lawmakers for some of New York's problems – two things their readers like to hear.'

''' The next news source I looked at was NBC. Nbcnews.com did not lean far to the left or right like CNN or Fox News, but their coverage was more unbiased. Their top story took a look inside President Trump's temporary immagration ban. The article talked about how it did not become very seriously considered until the President tweeted about it. The article was a little critical of the process happening that way. It also made it seem impressive that the Trump administration got it all done in less than two days. Their website also prominently featured an investigation into how distributors of child sexual abuse images are getting bolder while more people are at home (and online) during the pandemic. This was a very unpolitical story with a message that was not in any way politically controversial. Neither Fox News nor CNN talked about anything related to this. It was a very good journalistic article that I have not seen anywhere else. The next article I came to discussed a new coronavirus aid bill that was passed by the House. The article discussed how both Democrats and Republicans have some issues with the bill, but ultimately it was passed because the country needed it. It was another pretty unbiased article. My eye was next drawn to an article talking about the impacts of COVID-19 on scientific research at the North and South Poles. This was a very unique article and another one I have not seen any mention of anywhere else. It was also pretty politically unbiased. The article was interesting because it showed how COVID-19 truly affects everyone, even scientists in the most remote locations. Another prominently featured article contrasted the views of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Trump on the future of the coronavirus pandemic. Nbcnews.com also had a similar article to CNN about Senator Warren's brother dying of COVID-19. Additionally, they included a link to a live stream of President Trump's daily press briefing. These have been very popular throughout the last couple months and have delivered great ratings to TV Networks. My family has watched many of them. My Dad said they are very informative, but can also be entertaining. NBC had very unique research throughout. From the look inside President Trump's immigration ban, to the child sex abuse story, to the story about research at the Poles, they covered the pandemic from angles I did not see wnywhere else, and it was very interesting. Their articles also had a very global, big picture focus overall, as opposed to the left and right focuses of CNN and Fox News respectively.

''' The next news outlet I took a look at was ABC News. The stories on their website had a very national focus overall. The top story on abcnews.com talked about the coronavirus aid bill that was passed by the House. The article was pretty unbiased and similar to the NBC article. The next news article I came across discussed Vice President Mike Pence's positive outlook on the pandemic. Like the Fox News article, it mentioned how Pence said that the pandemic could largely be behind us by the end of May. Pence has been pretty public throughout the pandemic as the leader of President Trump's Coronavirus Task Force. This position has given Pence a truly national voice he did not have before the pandemic. The next article that caught my eye was about how the infant daughter of a New York firefighter died from COVID-19. This is obviously a very sad story, but there have been countless depressing stories about coronavirus from all different parts of the country and the globe. I thought it was very interesting they picked this one to cover, and it at least in small part further highlights the New York bias of media coverage of this pandemic. New York has become the global epicenter of the pandemic and certainly warrants lots of coverage, but readers hear about New York a lot during this pandemic and it would have been more interesting to hear about how coronavirus affected another area of the country. Another article featured prominently on abcnews.com highlighted five people who died in tornadoes in Texas and Oklahoma. This was the only non COVID-19 article I found among their top stories but I think it stuck with their national focus. The severe weather that week was a large event that affected much of the country. It was appropriate for them to cover it and include it among their top stories. Of all the news outlets I looked at, this was one of the only non-coronavirus articles included in any outlet's top stories. The final article I noticed was about how a Georgia mayor received racist text messages from an anonymous number amid Georgia's plan to partially reopen the state.' The article discussed how the mayor was against reopening the state and how she was worried to receive such texts. This was a story I did not see covered by any of the other news outlets I checked, and it was a very important story. Many people have differing opinions on reopening the country, and it will be interesting to see those opinions come to the forefront going forward. Currently, many businesses are operating with their employees working from home, and they are wondering when the country might reopen. My Dad, an advertising executive, said working from home has gone smoothly so far, but it has not been easy. In total, ABC's stories had a more national focus while NBC's stories were more global.' It also seemed like many of ABC's articles focused on more personal stories, and did a good job of relating their messages to their readers.'

My Dad works from home during quarantine.

''' The final news source I looked at was WGN-TV's website. I chose WGN because they are Chicago focused, and my family and me are quarantining in the Chicago suburbs, so we have been viewing the pandemic through a Chicago lens. Their top story was about the stay at home order being extended and amended by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. Illinois was one of the first states to issue a stay at home order. Like President Trump, Governor Pritzker has been holding daily press conferences keeping the state updated on his team's efforts to combat coronavirus. Pritzker has been pretty well received at these press conferences even as Illinois has consistently had some of the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the United States. My sister Kathryn said she feels Pritzker has been very credible throughout the pandemic. The next article I came across discussed Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's new team to help Chicagoland recover. Like Vice President Pence, Lightfoot is someone who has gained a much wider audience during the pandemic. Lightfoot has been vocal about slowing the spread of the pandemic in Chicago. She has gained popularity in Chicagoland over the last couple months. The next top story I saw was about the third Chicago Police officer to die of COVID-19. This is an article that is very important to Chicagoians, but would probably not appear in any media outside of Chicago. Many people throughout Chicagoland know someone who works for the large Chicago Police Department and would like to know how the virus is affecting them. Next, I came across an informational article about the new requirement by Governor Pritzker that all Illinoians wear masks in public starting May 1. This is also a very important article for WGN to include because it affects all people in Illinois. As recently as a few weeks ago, my family did not wear masks anywhere when we left the house, but even before this new requirement my Dad has insisted we all wear masks when going anywhere in public.

My family has primarily been using bandanas like this one as face coverings when going out in public.

    The final article that caught my eye was about the state parks that are reopening on May 1. This was a very nice article to include among their top stories. Many people are feeling cooped up at home because of the stay at home order, and this article gives people some options of where to safely take a scenic walk or run during quarantine. It also reminds people to get their exercise amid the pandemic. Because of WGN's Chicago/Illinois focus, many of their stories affect my family and me directly. Their coverage of national news regarding the pandemic is pretty unbiased, but sometimes mentions how the news might affect Chicago. Their Chicago bias is certainly warranted, since most of WGN's viewers and readers live in the Chicagoland area. Much of the news that appears on WGN affects my family and me more directly than news from national sources. 

Overall, the five news outlets I looked at were very diverse. All had a different top story, which was very interesting to me since I checked them all at roughly the same time on the same day. It was easy to see the left lean of CNN, the right lean of Fox News, the global focus of NBC News, the national focus of ABC News and the Chicagoland cocus of WGN in their stories. Each source kept their readers updated and informed but in very different ways, and in some cases with different information. A viewer could have different views on the pandemic depending on which news outlet they got their information from. My mom said this differing information can confuse viewers. While they all differed in their coverage, they all also braved the duty of reporting to the public during a truly historic pandemic, and that is absolutely something to be commended. 

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