On COVID-19, News Organizations Need to Replace Their Political Journalists with Their Science Journalists

The news media must step it up in their coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yes, there are lots of good explainers, but too much of the ‘premier’ coverage is being driven by celebrity political journalists. They are inclined, as is almost always the case, to treat COVID-19 in the typical political horse race/gossip column manner. So, stories about bad (horrible) public health policy are recast as ‘conflict’ between political actors. Once you have ‘conflict’, you slide into that ‘he said/she said’ crapola, and it’s all downhill from there–at that point, the reporting is actively doing a disservice to the public.

Science journalists, more often than not (nobody’s perfect), will ask what the science is (i.e., what should be done), and then try to figure out what is actually being done (the policy). The personality conflict crap only emerges within the context of those two questions*. It’s worth noting that some of the most explosive stories, such as hospitals’ inability to purchase masks have not been broken by White House press corps gossip, but by science and policy-oriented journalists.

Science reporters also have the added advantage of having dealt with multiple forms of denialism, ranging from creationism to global warming denialism, so they have some experience on how to write around that.

News organizations need to pull off their political reporters and place their science reporters front and center. These cretins are are going to get thousands of people killed.

Whether this applies to topics other than COVID-19 is left as an exercise for the reader.
*Trump’s malignant narcissism is part of the story, though most celebrity political journalists will never say or write that.

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1 Response to On COVID-19, News Organizations Need to Replace Their Political Journalists with Their Science Journalists

  1. Dave Dell says:

    I see it as journalisms money problem. There are few journalists who cover policy. Most airtime is devoted to the coverage of politics. Journalists who cover policy think, eventually, in terms of consequences of policy actions.

    The main problem with discussing the consequences of policy actions, as I see it, is that the American public doesn’t seem willing (or able?) to focus their attention for more than 30 seconds. Policy explanations, thorough, in-depth policy explanations, are never going to acquire or keep a mass viewing or on-line audience. No audience for it, no money coming in.

    Additionally, it’s the main reason I detest political debates on television. “Sen. Warren, please explain how your proposal would be paid for without trying to educate the viewing audience about modern monetary theory. You have 1 minute.”

    And now we have Presidential Candidates that speak in “train of wandering thought”. Sigh.

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