We hear a lot about media bias and how mainstream media outlets bend facts to fit a particular narrative. Let’s face it: claims of media bias are often over-exaggerated, but when it’s obvious and blatant, we should point it out.
This week’s glaring example: CNN wrote about Americans’ attitudes about the coronavirus in a tweet that suggested that Americans would be willing to shelter in place until a vaccine is readily available. The tweet – which CNN has since deleted – read, “68% of Americans say a coronavirus vaccine is needed before returning to normal life, a new survey finds.”
The problem with the tweet was that CNN’s conclusion wasn’t what the poll actually said. Or, as Caleb Howe put it over at Mediate:
The problem is that the claim is not remotely true. It’s not “partially” untrue, nor is it merely “misleading.” It is, in fact, grossly untrue. Patently. Outright incorrect.
CNN changed the headline in the article to more accurately reflect polling numbers: “68% of Americans say an available vaccine is very important before returning to normal life, new survey finds.”
Let’s breakdown the question in the poll that led to the wildly inaccurate tweet. The question posed to respondents was, “How important are each of the following factors to you when thinking about your willingness to return to your normal activities?” Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed saidthe option of “The availability of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19” was “Very Important.”
The thing is, there’s a vast difference between believing that a coronavirus vaccine is “very important” to returning to “normal activities” and claiming that the vaccine is “needed” before “returning to normal life.” Sure, you could argue that it’s splitting hairs over semantics, but a deeper dive into data suggests that CNN was way off base.
Nicholas Grossman of Arc Digital looked at the CNN poll and Gallup surveys that CNN mentioned in their story, and he concluded that CNN interpreted the data in a way that’s far from the truth of the polls.
The article doesn’t link to any polls— never a good sign — but mentions “two Gallup surveys.” I searched Gallup’s polling on coronavirus, and the survey questions are less ambiguous regarding “normal life,” with results that differ substantially from CNN’s claim.
One question asks “how soon would you return to your normal day-to-day activities” if “there were no government restrictions,” giving four options. The most popular answer is “after the number of new cases declines significantly,” getting 40 percent in the most recent survey. The least popular answer is “after a coronavirus vaccine is developed.” Only 9 percent went with that.
Nine percent, you may have noticed, is less than 68 percent.
He went on to conclude that CNN should delete their tweet – they did – and issue a correction to their article. CNN didn’t go so far as to issue a correction, but they added a “clarification” to the article:
The headline on this post was updated to clarify that the survey found 68% of Americans say an available vaccine is very important before returning to normal life. The post was also clarified to emphasize that respondents were rating the importance of each benchmark to their willingness to return to regular activities.
Here’s what it boils down to: CNN – and much of the mainstream media – wants Americans to shelter in place far longer than they are, and it’s for a couple of reasons. First of all, cities like New York and Los Angeles are going to have to shelter in place much longer, and today’s media is so monolithic that they believe what’s good for urban areas is good for everybody.
Secondly, CNN knows that American life returning to normal will lead to an economic recovery, and they can’t have that, because a rebounding economy would benefit the GOP.
At the end of the day, CNN’s handling of these polling numbers and their halfhearted “clarification” reflects either sloppy incompetence or a desire to bend the truth toward their narrative. To use their own metaphor, they’re turning an apple into a banana out of carelessness or out of sheer force of will.
Which is it? You be the judge.