Media falsify how they responded to coronavirus

Media falsify how they responded to coronavirus
Image: CDC

The media mocked people who took coronavirus seriously as a threat back in January. Journalists frequently depicted people who sounded the alarm as being racist or paranoid. But now, they are rewriting history to make it sound like they warned the public well in advance, even when they actually dismissed coronavirus as no big deal back in January and February.

Mother Jones magazine is one of the worst offenders. As the progressive journalist Glenn Greenwald points out, back in January, “most of the media” ignored the rising threat of coronavirus in favor of relatively “inconsequential” matters, with a few exceptions, such as Tucker Carlson, who “was urging attention be paid to the coronavirus.” But now, Mother Jones is trying to “re-write history” to conceal the fact that it denied coronavirus was much of a danger.

As Greenwald points out, Mother Jones said in January that coronavirus was less of a threat to America than the flu: “literally *the day after* Carlson urged people to pay attention to [the spread of coronavirus] in January, this is what Mother Jones published: ‘The New Coronavirus Is Scary — But This Year’s Flu Is Much Scarier!” Instead of warning the public about the danger of coronavirus, “they published an article in late January insisting the flu was worse & citing the CDC to say the risk is ‘low’ to the US public.”

Many journalists and politicians viewed alarm about coronavirus as a sign of racism and xenophobia. Two days after the Mother Jones article, travel restrictions were implemented by the Trump administration, to limit the spread of the virus from China. Joe Biden objected. In remarks sympathetically reported by the media, he said, “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of xenophobia — hysterical xenophobia — and fearmongering.” Similarly, the Washington Post claimed that “fighting coronavirus with travel bans is a mistake.”

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But the restrictions on travel from China were implemented on the advice of career public health officials in the Department of Health & Human Services. As the Associated Press notes, “Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health has praised the travel restrictions on China for slowing the virus.”

The media was wrong to depict such measures as xenophobic and racist. It also was wrong to underestimate the threat posed by coronavirus.

The media routinely claimed coronavirus was less serious than the flu.  On March 4, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper said, “if you’re freaked out about the coronavirus you should be more concerned about the flu.” CNN depicted “fears” of the coronavirus as being “misguided” because “it’s caused far fewer deaths than the flu.” A Washington Post article in February advised readers, “Get a grippe, America. The flu is a much bigger threat than coronavirus.” The Daily Beast wrote that “coronavirus, with zero American fatalities, is dominating headlines, while the flu is the real threat.” Similarly, Vox dismissed the risks posed by coronavirus. “Is this going to be a deadly pandemic? No,” it said. “For most people in the US, though, there’s really no reason to worry,” Vox said.

The media suggested that people raising the alarm about coronavirus were being emotional rather than logical, acting based on primal fears, or out of paranoia or racism. A Washington Post article claimed that “our brains make coronavirus seem scarier than it is” and that “we should be wary of an aggressive government response to coronavirus.”

The New York Times suggested that fears triggered by coronavirus were a bigger problem than coronavirus itself. It wrote that “in Europe, fear spreads faster than the coronavirus itself.” It suggested that racism against Asians spawned by coronavirus was the real problem, not the disease itself, and that “the risk of catching it” is “low.” Similarly, Vox claimed that panic about coronavirus showed “racism” and its link to “cleanliness.”

They were wrong to downplay its danger. Coronavirus killed at least 247 people in America yesterday, and at least 225 the day before. And the daily death toll from coronavirus continues to rise. More than 8,000 people have died so far this month in Italy, and more than 4,000 in Spain — far more than their monthly death rates from the flu.

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Contact him at


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