Washington, D.C. – Just when we thought it was safe, COVID is back. The delta variant is sweeping through the unvaccinated portion of the population, sending people to the hospital at an alarming rate. Government experts are once again talking openly about the need for masking protocols and the possibility of additional lockdowns just as the U.S. economy is starting to get back on its feet.
It’s clear America never really understood the disease, how it moved through the population, and why so many people died from it. It’s true the government’s response through two administrations have been uneven, sometimes swinging widely from one extreme to the other on important questions but the real blame for the public’s lack of comprehension of the dangers we face lies those to whom we look to explain what is going and why.
The surge in the number of people testing possible for the delta variant is once again dominating the national conversation as is the number of those people who end up hospitalized. Left out of the conversation is how this same variant appears to be considerably less lethal than the iteration of the disease believed by many to have originated in Wuhan, China.
You might think “More People Infected Yet Far Fewer Are Dying” would be a welcome headline. Most of us have yet to see it or anything like it. Whether that’s by design or another clue that the reporters and the experts who they interview about COVID aren’t as up to speed on what’s going on as they appear to be is something that itself probably needs to be investigated. Misinformation has been a problem throughout America’s COVID crisis and has led people to make all sorts of unwise decisions – the worst of which is probably the decision not to take the vaccine when there’s no valid medical or religious reason for abstaining.
As bad as that is, the push to have everyone take the vaccine regardless of the possible consequences does a near equal disservice to the American public. The failure of the “talking heads” to address various concerns people may have about the various vaccines while cheerleading for everyone to get vaccinated doesn’t help get people over their fears, real or imagined.
The root cause for all this is the public’s distrust of the media, which has been growing by leaps and bounds on both sides of the ideological aisle for more than a decade. Reporters promoting an agenda inside their reporting have shaken the average news consumer’s confidence they can be trusted to a significant degree. And when the coverage turns to “life and death” issues like the pandemic, that mistrust can produce fatal results.
A poll released Monday by Rasmussen Reports suggests it is the media rather than policymakers who are responsible for the COVID confusion. “Only 42 percent of Americans rate the media’s coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic excellent or good, and many have concerns about the accuracy of reporting on vaccine safety,” the pollster said. In a time of true crisis, a number that low should have news executives and network heads hanging their heads in shame.
Polls are not definitive but the trends they reflect tell us a great deal. According to Rasmussen Reports, the latest numbers are down from where they were in December 2020, when fully half the country said the coverage of the pandemic was “excellent or good.”
At the same time, the lack of confidence in COVID reporting may also be responsible for the spread of misinformation about the vaccine and the virus. “The number of Americans who think the media are exaggerating the COVID-19 threat has increased since December,” the polling firm reported, with the numbers now “dead even – 44 percent believe the media are exaggerating the coronavirus threat and the same percentage don’t think so.”
The poll found the distrust of the media to be generalized. “Among those who think the media are exaggerating the COVID-19 threat,” the polling firm found, “59 percent also don’t believe the media are accurately reporting about vaccine safety. By comparison, among those who don’t believe the media have exaggerated the coronavirus threat, 67 percent think the media are reporting accurately about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.”
The fact younger Americans are choosing to reject the vaccine, something policymakers say is a significant factor in the way the number of confirmed cases of COVID-Delta has spiked over recent weeks, also appears correlated to attitudes about the media. In the poll, 48 percent of those under age 40 said they believed “the COVID-19 threat is exaggerated by the media,” while just 34 percent of those aged 65 and older said it was. Additionally, 38 percent of those participating in the survey said they thought “the media aren’t reporting accurately about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines,” which probably explains a lot about why so many Americans have chosen not to be vaccinated.
The survey of 1,000 U.S. American Adults was conducted on July 21-22, 2021, by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.
Peter Roff can be reached at RoffColumns AT GMAIL.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff.
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