Media outlets are letting Vice President Mike Pence downplay recent COVID-19 numbers

Mike Pence and Charles Payne

Vice President Mike Pence has been on a media tour downplaying a troubling spike in coronavirus cases in some parts of the country — and many outlets are letting him get away with it.

Several states, such as Florida, Texas, and Arizona, are now experiencing record numbers of reported coronavirus cases as social distancing restrictions continue to loosen across the nation. Unlike other countries, the United States has recently failed to cut the daily number of new cases, which had seemed to plateau and is now trending upward again. The Trump administration has chosen to ignore these warning signs and continued to push for states to reopen in hopes of restarting the economy.

Pence, leader of the White House coronavirus task force, has been at the forefront of the administration’s efforts. On June 16, Pence published an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal titled “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave,’” chastising the media for “sounding the alarm bells” and writing, “Such panic is overblown.” Multiple outlets pointed out numerous flaws in Pence’s reasoning, including that the entire premise of his piece was misleading. As Philip Bump noted in The Washington Post, “We aren’t seeing a second wave because we’re still dealing with the first one.”

The Wall Street Journal is not the only outlet that allowed Pence to promote misleading talking points about recent coronavirus numbers. In the days before and after the publication of the piece, Pence appeared on numerous TV and radio programs — and in many cases, reporters failed to provide any significant pushback to his misleading claims.

In particular, Pence repeatedly tried to suggest that the surge in cases shouldn’t warrant significant concern because it can primarily be attributed to increased testing. This claim, which Pence pushed in a private call with state governors on June 15, is an attempt to distract from recent testing data which indicates increased spread independent of higher testing rates. Pence also repeatedly emphasized that hospitalizations across the country are declining, but this claim obscures increasing hospitalization rates in certain states experiencing a spike in cases.

  • On the day his Wall Street Journal piece was published, Pence appeared on Fox & Friends to downplay growing case numbers in parts of the country. Pence claimed that “across the board in the country hospitalizations are declining” without noting that hospitalizations are increasing in at least eight states. The hosts of Fox & Friends failed to question this claim, and Ainsley Earhardt instead chose to ask about the Republican National Convention being moved to Jacksonville, Florida.
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Citation From the June 16, 2020, edition of Fox News' Fox and Friends

  • Fox Business host Charles Payne introduced his interview with Pence on June 17 by chastising “fearmongerers” in the media for focusing on a rise in coronavirus cases in certain states. Later, Pence again misleadingly declared that “hospitalizations are declining for coronavirus all around the country” and Payne failed to question that claim. Both Pence and Payne complained about media outlets highlighting states with increasing COVID-19 cases in their graphics, and Payne in particular showed concern about the impact this focus could have on the stock market.
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Citation From the June 17, 2020, edition of Fox Business' Making Money with Charles Payne

  • In an interview that was posted online on June 17 on Sinclair Broadcast Group’s America This Week, Pence stated that the “fearmongering that has been going on in much of the national media I think is a great disservice to the American people.” Host Eric Bolling failed to press Pence on any of his claims, only noting that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared to disagree with Pence’s predictions regarding a second wave of coronavirus. At the same time, chyrons like “Media Panic Over Covid-19” and “Fear Mongering in Media” echoed the vice president’s claims.
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Citation From the June 17, 2020, edition of Sinclair Broadcast Group's America This Week

  • On June 12, Pence gave an interview to CBS News Radio. When asked about increasing cases in parts of the country, Pence claimed that “much of that is the result of the extraordinary expansion of testing,” and CBS’ Steven Portnoy did not push back on the misleading claim. Pence went on to repeat this claim in his private call with governors a few days later.

Local outlets also failed to scrutinize Pence’s misleading claims. Journalists at Pennsylvania outlets WGAL and WPXI interviewed Pence as he toured the state as part of the “Great American Comeback Tour” organized by a pro-Trump nonprofit with ties to the America First Action super PAC.

  • During his appearance on WGAL on June 11, Pence said “We are seeing in a handful of case some new cases going up. … Much of that has to do with a vast expansion of testing.” Neither Pence nor WGAL’s reporter noted that the increase in cases cannot be entirely explained by an increase in testing.
  • The next day, Pence offered similar claims downplaying a rise in cases independent of an increase in testing during an interview with WPXI, stating, “Some of the increase in cases that you’re seeing in states is actually a reflection of a dramatic increase in testing.” Pence’s claim received no follow-up.