In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping talks by video with patients and medical workers at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. China’s president visited the center of the global virus outbreak Tuesday as Italy began a sweeping nationwide travel ban and people worldwide braced for the possibility of recession. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via AP)
At a time when coverage on the virus is all news networks can talk about, one thing you’ll find that they won’t delve into is any claims, reports, or activities surrounding China and its government.
The Media Research Center analyzed broadcasts from major networks and found that despite news coverage of the Coronavirus skyrocketing, any investigations or speculations into China’s activities or claims have pretty much been absent from their reporting:
MRC analysts reviewed all weekday broadcast evening news coverage from the first day the networks arrived at the coronavirus story (January 17), through March 13, the day President Trump declared it a national emergency. Even though most of the early weeks were devoted to the situation in China, out of 634 minutes of total coronavirus coverage, our analysts found only 3 minutes, 14 seconds — less than one percent — discussed topics unflattering to the Chinese government.
MRC found that when it came to various subjects that really stand out in terms of coverage on China’s handling of the virus, subjects either went wholly unmentioned or were “sanitized” so that certain aspects of a story seemed more flattering to China than damaging. A solid example is Dr. Li Wenliang who initially blew the whistle on the outbreak of Covid-19 but was punished by the Chinese authorities for doing so. Upon the report of his death, none of the networks mentioned this with the exception of NPR:
“Li, 34, had first sought to warn his college classmates in the medical profession of the disease in late December. Using the popular Chinese social media platform WeChat, Li wrote that he had become aware of several cases similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, another coronavirus that killed nearly 800 people in a 2002-2003 outbreak that Beijing initially tried to cover up. However, within days, local police paid him a visit and reprimanded him for the posts….Li is one of several whistleblowers in the medical profession who tried to sound the alarm but were apparently shut down by authorities in the crucial first weeks of the outbreak.”
When it comes to scrutinizing or casting doubt on the claims of Chinese officials, the media was largely absent as well, allowing statistics to be aired with little challenge:
It’s long been understood that China’s communist leadership often publishes phony economic data in order to make the government look as good as possible (see here, here and here for examples), and the 2002 SARS outbreak showed the same instinct prevailed when it comes to health emergencies.
But while nearly one-fifth of evening news stories cited official Chinese government statistics (63 out of 326), nearly all of the time (97%) those figures were presented without any challenge; only twice did the networks suggest there was any reason to doubt the figure.
China has been attempting to control its image as the pandemic sweeps the globe. Reports of no new reports of citizens contracting the virus and its efforts to help other countries with outbreaks have hit the airwaves, making China look like a global leader and benefactor who enjoys competent leadership. Our own media has seen it fit to not only abide by this narrative but also help China push the idea that President Donald Trump is incompetent, slow to act, and uncaring.
A report by CNN, which was highlighted by Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, blatantly did this very thing.
It would appear that in this time of crisis, our media is still focused on playing politics, even when it helps our enemies.