ABC News erroneously reported last week that the United States had reported its “highest single-day of COVID-19 deaths.” That was the headline on a segment aired August 13 that was shared on Good Morning America and elsewhere.
Reason editor-at-large Nick Gillespie reported that the ABC anchor who introduced the information began the segment by claiming the “United States is reporting the highest number of deaths in a single day—nearly 1,500.” As the anchor spoke, however, a graphic displayed briefly completely undermined the alarmist claim that the coronavirus was somehow worse now than it was in the spring.
“The graphic at least points out an important qualifier: The 1,490 deaths represent the deadliest day ‘since mid-May,’” Gillespie wrote. “In fact, according to The New York Times’ count, the seven-day rolling average number of deaths in April was double what the current numbers are. If you look at the graphic, you can see that peak deaths plainly occurred months ago. But such attention to such an enormously important detail goes completely missing in the ABC segment, and a less-than-attentive viewer could be forgiven for thinking that the country was in fact experiencing record-setting COVID-19 deaths right now.”
This incident wasn’t the only recent example of media fearmongering over the coronavirus pandemic. On Sunday, Bloomberg ran a headline that read: “JUST IN: Malaysia detects new coronavirus strain that’s 10 times more infectious.” As Gillespie wrote, the headline has since been changed to read, “Southeast Asia Detects Mutated Virus Strain Sweeping the World,” yet even that is misleading.
“If you read the piece, you’d learn that the strain being discussed actually ‘is the predominant variant in Europe and the U.S.’ and that ‘there’s no evidence from the epidemiology that the mutation is considerably more infectious than other strains,’ according to an epidemiologist cited in the story. There is a suggestion that it ‘is said to have a higher possibility of transmission or infectiousness,’ but there is in fact no evidence that the strain is either new or particularly bad,” Gillespie wrote.
As The Daily Wire reported Tuesday, misinformation from mainstream media outlets has led many Americans to hold misconceptions about the risk of death from COVID-19. A study from Franklin Templeton Investments and Gallup Research found three major ways Americans misunderstand the death risk of COVID-19:
- On average, Americans believe that people aged 55 and older account for just over half of total COVID-19 deaths; the actual figure is 92%.
- Americans believe that people aged 44 and younger account for about 30% of total deaths; the actual figure is 2.7%.
- Americans overestimate the risk of death from COVID-19 for people aged 24 and younger by a factor of 50; and they think the risk for people aged 65 and older is half of what it actually is (40% vs 80%).
“This, sadly, comes as no surprise. Fear and anger are the most reliable drivers of engagement; scary tales of young victims of the pandemic, intimating that we are all at risk of dying, quickly go viral; so do stories that blame everything on your political adversaries. Both social and traditional media have been churning out both types of narratives in order to generate more clicks and increase their audience,” wrote Sonal Desai, chief investment officer of Franklin Templeton Fixed Income. “The fact that the United States is in an election year has exacerbated the problem. Stories that emphasize the dangers of the pandemic to all age cohorts and tie the risk to the Administration’s handling of the crisis likely tend to resonate much more with Democrats than Republicans. This might be a contributing factor to why, in our survey results, Democrats tend to overestimate the risk of dying from COVID-19 for different age cohorts to a greater extent than Republicans do.”