Analysis: Media Distort COVID Stats to Assail Some Politicians, Shield Others

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Posted: Jul 27, 2020 1:05 PM
Analysis: Media Distort COVID Stats to Assail Some Politicians, Shield Others

Let's be clear: The Coronavirus pandemic is serious and ongoing.  Mitigation steps are critical, and the rush toward new treatments and vaccines are urgent.  A number of states that were not hammered by the virus in the initial spring wave that crashed in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, and parts of the Midwest have been experiencing that first wave this summer.  While there's much we still do not know about the disease, it seems likely that some combination of businesses reopening, large scale protests, and perhaps air conditioning in large indoor gathering spaces, have contributed to the recent travails in places like Southern California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia and Florida.

What also seems clear is that the news media -- which was attempting to create emergencies in Florida and Georgia many weeks before their current (and hopefully declining) problems began -- have kicked their negative coverage into overdrive.  Based on the way the story is being presented, one might think that these 'sun belt' states have been crushed by the virus in an unprecedented way.  A recent hit piece in the Washington Post once again zeroed in on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose early focus on protecting nursing homes has been largely successful, certainly compared to the approaches of several of his Democratic counterparts.  The story was a mess.  This whole thread is useful:


In case you missed it, the "Jones firing" refers to this complete non-scandal that was ignorantly or dishonestly hyped by many in the press who have been creepily invested in Florida's failure for months.  The real 'tell' here is that they were piling on DeSantis even when his results were absolutely superb, prior to the current spike.  Relatedly, headlines blaring about Florida's case count blowing past New York's are wildly misleading, considering that Florida has administered far, far, far more tests than New York was able to conduct and process in the throes of COVID.  At the moment, it looks like Arizona, and Texas may be past their peaks (remember, deaths are a lagging indicator), with Florida and California leveling off.  Let's hope these trajectories continue, and improve:


Tragically, deaths will likely continue to increase for a period of time in these states due to the aforementioned lagging indicator effect, but a flat-to-downward curve on other metrics is obviously preferable to all the arrows still pointing up.  And to keep things in perspective, click on this chart and keep skimming until you finally reach Florida.  Texas is even lower:


Another visualization:


This is not to say that outbreaks in these states should not be taken very seriously, or that there's no room to question if certain reopening plans were rushed or premature.  I'll note that Democrat-run Colorado opened on a similar timeline, but has generally done well, despite some hiccups that have flared up.  Nevertheless, its death rate per 100,000 is still worse than Texas or Florida's, a fact that has received scant attention.  Its trajectory on infection rates is better, however, which may be at least partially attributable to Colorado's lack of ubiquitous air conditioning.  Meanwhile, the shameless governor of New York is attacking anyone who dares to point out his failures, while otherwise glowing news coverage has boosted his approval.  And the negative glare of hostile press has taken a toll on Republican governors whose stats are all much, much better than Cuomo's:


Bottom lines: If, and it's a big if, the current trends continue, it looks like Arizona, Texas, et al could be headed for a "flattened curve" spike, wherein hospitals were not overwhelmed.  This was the goal of the whole 'flatten the curve' mantra.  New York's curve looks like the 'what to avoid' model from the famous chart, while other states that have experienced a less severe and delayed surges would appear to be relative success stories.  Of course, things could spike out of control, and developments could go sideways.  Vigilance and precautions remain priorities. But news reports savaging red states with little-to-no context on relative performance are driving a partisan narrative, rather than telling the truth.  All leaders should be held accountable for their responses to this pandemic.  Fair assessments require thoughtfulness, context, and reasonable comparisons.  The national media is largely failing in this respect, but given the polling numbers posted above, it's hard to shake the feeling that some journalists would say they're succeeding.  I'll leave you with this thread of more promising news.