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May 20, 2020, 2 p.m.
Audience & Social

Americans who turn to the White House for coronavirus news tend to think the media’s pandemic coverage is overblown

A new Pew Research Center report found Americans’ views of the media’s coronavirus performance differ substantially depending on which sources they rely on most for news about the pandemic.

When it comes to the possibility of coronavirus being “overblown” by the media, there’s those listening to the White House and there’s everyone else, according to a report published Wednesday by Pew.

The study shows a stark contrast between those who rely on the White House for coronavirus news — 16 percent of Americans — and those who get their information primarily from other sources. Compared with those who get their news primarily from local or national outlets, local and state officials, or public health organizations, those who rely primarily on the White House for news about COVID-19 hold the most negative views about journalists and media coverage:

Among five groups of news consumers examined for this report, one group clearly stands out: Americans who rely most on President Donald Trump and the White House coronavirus task force for news about COVID-19. On each of seven questions concerning the media’s coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, those who rely on Trump and the task force give, by a wide margin, the most negative assessments of any group

This is…not exactly surprising. Even a global pandemic has not bridged the partisan divide on journalism. The president has also used coronavirus briefings to continue his attacks on individual journalists and news organizations. He has long sought to undermine the credibility of the free press. Recently, he expressed his support for the protestors who angrily harassed a local journalist at a reopen rally in Long Island.

Of those relying on the president and his coronavirus task force, 51 percent said the media has made COVID-19 — which has killed more than 90,000 Americans as of today — “a bigger deal than it really is.”

In no other group do more than a third say the coronavirus outbreak has been blown out of proportion; those who rely mainly on public health organizations and officials for coronavirus news are more likely than other groups to say that the outbreak has been underplayed.

Overall, Pew found that 46 percent of Americans believe media coverage of the coronavirus is helping the country, 34 percent believe it is hurting, and 20 percent said neither choice applies. The national average masks consensus — in opposite directions — within certain groups.

Only one-in-five of those who rely primarily on national news outlets say the media’s coverage is hurting the country while the responses of those who rely on the president are nearly the reverse. Among the Trump group, only 21 percent say the media are helping the country with their pandemic coverage, while almost three times as many (61 percent) believe they are damaging the nation.

As earlier Pew research found, Americans are twice as likely to say that media coverage of COVID-19 is largely accurate (49 percent) than largely inaccurate (24 percent) on average. “Those who rely on Trump and the task force see COVID-19 coverage as far more flawed than the other groups,” however. In fact, it’s fairly neatly flipped; that group is twice as likely to say that coverage has been largely inaccurate (48 percent) as largely accurate (24 percent).

Demographically, the group most tuned into the White House is heavily Republican: more than 90 percent identified themselves as Republican or leaning Republican. (I know you’re shocked.) They’re also likely to be white and older than the average American: 82 percent are non-Hispanic white and nearly 40 percent are 65 or older.

The largest group in the survey was the 26 percent who said they rely mainly on national news outlets. Those who said they rely on public health organizations and officials for coronavirus news — 18 percent — were relatively young: more than a quarter were between the ages of 18 and 29. The group that relies on local news outlets — also 18 percent — had the highest percentage of racial and ethnic minorities with nonwhite adults making up 45 percent.

That national news group gave media the highest marks for its coronavirus coverage: 83 percent say journalists have done very or somewhat well covering the pandemic.

Although there were stark differences in how they answered most other questions, the groups that rely most on national news and the White House were the two most engaged groups; 56 percent of the national news group said they were following coronavirus news “very closely” and 55 percent of the Trump group said the same. The least attentive group of Americans were those who said they rely most on local news outlets: just 35 percent said they are following coronavirus news very closely.

The Pew Research Center found that the group that relies on the White House were most interested in the economic impact of the outbreak — 60 percent said they were following the topic “very closely.” The group that relies most on local news or state and local officials, unsurprisingly, were less interested in national topics and more likely to report following news like stories about about the availability of food and other essentials in stores “very closely.”

You can read the full report here.

Photo of a White House press briefing by Ninian Reid used under a Creative Commons license.

Sarah Scire is deputy editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email (, Twitter DM (@SarahScire), or Signal (+1 617-299-1821).
POSTED     May 20, 2020, 2 p.m.
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