ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news programs have frequently covered the right-wing protests against social distancing measures without giving necessary context from health experts that it would risk a resurgence of coronavirus infections. By contrast, the shows all but ignored a Tuesday protest at the White House by a major nurses union over the lack of protective personal equipment (PPE) that has put health care workers at risk.
Over the weekend, small protests were held in multiple states against stay-at-home orders that many governors have enacted to control the coronavirus spread. On Sunday, April 19, ABC’s World News Tonight aired a segment about protests in Denver, Colorado, against social distancing, framing them in an on-air graphic as “mounting anger.” The show opened its April 18 edition by featuring the “mounting protests.” NBC Nightly News on Sunday also opened its program with a report on the protests, airing multiple shots of protesters’ signs and saying the events were “capping a weekend of discontent.” CBS Evening News on April 20 also gave the protests publicity without providing its viewers the context that the protesters are representing a minority view. Instead, it teased the segment as a “fierce debate over reopening the economy.”
But the reality is that poll after poll shows vast majorities of the American people support stay-at-home orders until public health officials say it is safe to end them (as ABC's April 19 segment briefly mentioned), and are worried states will lift the restrictions too early. One Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows less than a quarter of Americans support the right-wing protests.
Additionally, none of these evening news program segments included quotes from public health experts warning about a resurgence of outbreaks if these restrictions are lifted too soon. (ABC's April 18 report does feature a sound bite from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo referencing this concern.) Even the Trump administration's own internal projection in early April reportedly estimated “more than 300,000 Americans could die” if all social distancing measures were rescinded -- and some public health experts said that was too optimistic a number.
And while the nightly newscasts found time to cover these small protests representing fringe views, they almost completely ignored a major nurses union's Tuesday protest at the White House.
On April 21, registered nurses with National Nurses United protested at the White House over the dangerous lack of PPE for many health care workers, which is leaving them vulnerable to the virus. At the protest, the nurses held up photos and read aloud the names of health care workers who have died from COVID-19 while helping other patients. A SnapStream transcript search showed that World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News failed to cover this protest Tuesday night. CBS Evening News covered it for barely 20 seconds, about as much time as it gave to anti-social distancing protests the same night.
Journalists and media outlets are enabling misinformation and false narratives by treating right-wing chicanery as more legitimate than it really is, while failing to offer necessary context and ignoring or underreporting important information.