by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
James Meigs explains in Commentary how poor journalism has hurt public response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a September 28 story, the New York Times breathlessly reported that the White House had pressured the CDC to “play down the risk of sending children back to school.” The piece described White House officials searching for “alternate data” showing that the pandemic “posed little danger to children.” No one wants to see unqualified officials overriding the judgment of epidemiologists. But in this case, the fact that COVID-19 poses relatively little risk to children isn’t some Trumpian myth; it’s a growing consensus among health professionals. To bolster its case, the Times cited a study from South Korea claiming that older children “can spread the virus as least as much as adults do.” In reality, those scary claims had been debunked by other experts weeks before. Most research shows that children play only a very small role in spreading the coronavirus. …
… So how did such a sloppy piece get published in the first place? Because the narrative was too perfect: Trump’s science-denying henchmen try to muscle CDC scientists into supporting their reckless agenda. Never mind that the reality was something closer to the opposite. …
… A newspaper less devoted to delivering a certain narrative—and more focused on facts—would have framed the whole article differently: The White House and the CDC disagree on childhood COVID risks. Who’s right? The main thrust of the piece would have been presenting the evidence on both sides and giving readers a responsible overview of the science. Instead, the Times produced a story that focused on a political critique first and then offered a few mangled bits of scientific information to support it. Informing the public about whether or not it is safe for children to return to school was not on the agenda.
And that’s a shame, because complex issues such as how to reopen schools are not purely scientific. They are also political and social questions.