News programs broadcast in Oklahoma from dozens of television stations failed to cover a lie Vice President Mike Pence told about the state’s rising rate of coronavirus infections to defend a decision by President Donald Trump’s campaign to hold a rally in Tulsa on Saturday.
On June 15, Pence said at a televised White House roundtable that Oklahoma has “flattened the curve. And today their hospital capacity is abundant, the number of cases in Oklahoma has declined precipitously and we feel very confident going forward with the rally this coming weekend.” The Daily Beast, citing a tweet from CNN reporter Daniel Dale which showed a recent surge in new coronavirus cases reported in the state, quickly explained that Pence “blatantly lied to reporters about the trajectory of COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma, where President Trump is scheduled to hold a large campaign rally on Saturday.”
On June 16, at least three other fact checks of Pence’s comments were published. PolitiFact rated his claim “false” and thoroughly debunked his assertion:
First, it’s incorrect to say that infections in Oklahoma “declined precipitously." As the chart shows, it was, at best, a modest decline between early April and the end of May. It could be more accurately described as a plateau.
Second, any “flattening the curve" period is old news. Over the most recent week, the number of new cases has increased every day and produced a spike beyond anything previously seen in Oklahoma. The seven-day rolling average for new infections is now more than double where it stood at the end of May, just before the spike began.
“It looks from the data that the number of cases is on the rise, and rising quite steeply," said Nicole Gatto, associate professor in the School of Community and Global Health at Claremont Graduate University.
Tara C. Smith, a professor of epidemiology at Kent State University, agreed.
“The seven-day average doesn't look great for the most recent part of June," Smith said. “They had slowed new cases for a while, but the trend now seems to be reversing."
Equally important, the recent spike does not appear to be traceable to a big surge in testing.
A CNN fact check pointed to data from Oklahoma’s state health department to rebut Pence’s claim, writing that “Oklahoma has seen an increase in new cases over the past two weeks -- along with the highest recorded cases in a single day -- when the number of tests given decreased.” An ABC News fact check cited the same data, and added: “In the Tulsa area specifically, the number of daily cases has also trended upward over the past two weeks, while the rate of testing has remained about the same, according to Tulsa County's health department, which oversees the city of Tulsa and the surrounding area.”
A lie from the most senior levels of government with possibly grave public health consequences, widely covered and rebutted by several major news organizations, should surely be covered by the news organizations in the area impacted. But according to a search for Pence’s comments in the Kinetiq video database of the eight television markets that broadcast in Oklahoma, only three television stations covered Pence’s lie in their local newscasts.
In Wichita Thursday morning, ABC-affiliated station KAKE broadcast two identical segments which showed that Pence’s comments weren’t true.
In Oklahoma City, ABC-affiliated station KOCO reported on Wednesday that data show the opposite of what Pence claimed.
And soon after Pence made his comments, Tulsa CBS-affiliated station KOTV on Monday quoted Dr. Bruce Dart of the Tulsa Health Department to push back against Pence’s claim.
But two identical KOTV segments the following morning uncritically aired Pence’s comment and did not explain that it was false.
Local officials have expressed concerns about the rally going ahead amid a spike in coronavirus cases, and Dart said the Trump campaign should delay it. The state’s health department commissioner also warned people attending the Trump rally that they “will face an increased risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and becoming a transmitter of this novel virus.”
The vice president of the United States lying about publicly available information on a deadly disease -- in order to defend the decision to put on an event likely to increase infections, sickness, and death -- should have been widely covered in local news reports. Instead, only three of the dozens of television stations serving Oklahoma reported on this lie.
Methodology: Media Matters searched the Kinetiq video database for any of the following unique phrases from Pence’s televised comments between the evening of June 15 and the morning of June 18: “They flattened the curve,” “today their hospital capacity is abundant,” or “the number of cases in Oklahoma has declined.” The search was conducted in every media market that is based in Oklahoma or broadcasts in any part of Oklahoma, according to Nielsen: Amarillo, Texas; Tulsa; Oklahoma City; Shreveport, Louisiana; Joplin-Pittsburg (Kansas and Missouri); Wichita Falls & Lawton (Texas and Oklahoma); Sherman-Ada (Texas and Oklahoma); and Ft. Smith-Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers (Arkansas). We included only matches from local newscasts in the results; we did not include matches from nationally syndicated programs.