President Donald Trump’s June 23 visit to Arizona happened at a time when the state had been seeing a massive surge of new coronavirus infections and just days after the president said he asked his administration to “slow the testing down.” Nevertheless, most local television news coverage of Trump’s visit in the days leading up to the event failed to mention this spike in coronavirus cases.
As the Arizona Republic reported on June 19, Trump was sharing the spotlight with COVID-19 in his visit to the state: “Arizona is now one of the nation's hot spots for infections, and Yuma, where Trump will inspect the border wall under construction Tuesday, is among the hardest hit locations in the state.” Prior to the event, Phoenix, where Trump attended a Students for Trump convention held by Turning Point Action, passed an ordinance requiring face masks to be worn in public, though it wasn’t enforced at the convention. According to Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, one-third of all Arizona’s coronavirus cases were reported in the preceding week.
Trump has repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic, botched his response to it, and took actions earlier in his administration that have undermined America’s ability to respond to it. He has also refused on multiple occasions to wear a protective face mask, helping to politicize a simple tool for saving lives. Trump has also repeatedly lied about the country’s record on coronavirus testing, eventually saying at a June 20 rally that he asked his administration to “slow the testing down.”
With Trump’s disastrous record and the ongoing pandemic -- which is growing as a major problem in Arizona -- local news coverage should have highlighted the spike in coronavirus infections when covering the president’s visit, as the Arizona Republic did. But while TV news stations that broadcast in the state may have reported on the spike separately or in reports adjacent to their coverage of Trump’s visit to the state, the vast majority of reports about it in the four days prior to his visit failed to mention the state’s recent increase in coronavirus infections.
According to a Media Matters search of the Kinetiq video database, only 44 out of 150 reports in television markets that broadcast in Arizona, or 29%, mentioned the state’s recent spike in coronavirus cases in their reporting on Trump’s upcoming visit to the state between June 19-22. Some stations in particular stood out: Fox-affiliated station KECY, covering Yuma, and Fox-affiliated KMSB in Tucson both failed to mention the coronavirus spike in any of their reports on Trump’s visit (Media Matters identified two such reports from KECY and nine from KMSB). CBS-affiliated KOLD and NBC-affiliated KVOA, both based in Tucson, each covered the coronavirus spike in only one of at least a dozen of their reports on Trump’s visit, or roughly 8% of the time.
Some other stations did a much better job of providing this context to their viewers. ABC-affiliated KOAT and CBS/Fox-affiliated KRQE -- both based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but airing in parts of Arizona -- didn’t cover Trump’s visit much but did mention the coronavirus spike in all of those reports. In Phoenix, ABC-affiliated KNXV included this context in its reports 82% of the time, and in Tucson, ABC-affiliated KGUN mentioned it in 80% of its reports on Trump’s visit.
Some of these local TV stations pushed a bizarre and unproven claim from the owners of Dream City Church, where the Phoenix convention was held, that they had an air purification system that eliminates the novel coronavirus. NBC-affiliated KPNX airing in Phoenix uncritically repeated these claims in at least two of its reports on Trump’s visit, and Fox-affiliated KSAZ, based in Phoenix, pushed this claim at least once. Other Phoenix-based stations, KTVK and CBS-affiliated KPHO, debunked these claims in some of their reporting on Trump’s visit.
Methodology: Media Matters searched the Kinetiq video database between June 19 and June 22, 2020, for mentions of Trump within 20 words of mentions of Yuma, Phoenix, or Arizona, and reviewed every search result for a mention of the spike in coronavirus cases in the state. This search was in the markets identified by Nielsen as broadcasting in Arizona: Albuquerque-Santa Fe, Phoenix (Prescott), Tucson (Sierra Vista), and Yuma-El Centro. Reports from nationally syndicated news programs and teasers were not counted.