Opinion | Media shouldn’t rub salt in the wound about COVID-19 pandemic

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Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

More than 1 million people are infected with COVID-19 around the world.

By Ana Altchek, Staff Columnist

As of now, I currently know 20 people infected with COVID-19 — including my 80-year-old grandfather. And unfortunately, with more than a million people infected around the world, I’m not alone.

But it’s important to roll with the punches and continue to move forward with life despite the difficult and uncertain circumstances we all face today. Unfortunately, that effort weakens every time I get an alert on my phone and read another insensitive, dramatic headline.

Life in quarantine isn’t ideal for most people, and it’s mentally and emotionally taxing even for those who don’t know anyone fighting the virus. Thus, when media outlets overdramatize the situation and compare the pandemic to other tragic events, it doesn’t alleviate any of the stress people already feel. In fact, it only incites more fear in an already petrified world. 

During a global pandemic like this, media outlets have several crucial responsibilities. In addition to accurately conveying all the latest findings about the novel coronavirus, they have an equally important obligation to refrain from adding fuel to an already rapidly burning fire. 

Various platforms have provided the facts in a direct and comprehensible manner. CNN does this efficiently in a sidebar on their website that provides a few succinct bullets about the number of cases, the number of deaths and how to prevent spread. There are also several different sites, like worldometer or the CDC site, that regularly track new data about the virus if people really want to find it. 

But using the death rate as a point of comparison to other traumatic events that have occurred in the country has been an insensitive and inefficient tactic. By April 1, when the number of deaths reached 4,000, MSNBC, USA Today, the New York Post and Vox all published articles with headlines about the number of COVID-19 deaths exceeding those on 9/11. 

Not only does this rehash tragic memories for 9/11 victims, but it also connects two crises that have no relation to each other. When 9/11 occurred, changes were made to governmental operations, though daily life remained the same for most Americans. Yet this virus poses a threat to citizens’ daily lives in a way that will prohibit the country from resuming what we know to be normal for months. Both scenarios have affected the country in horrific ways, but other than the deaths they’ve caused, they have few similarities. 

As the death toll has risen, other media platforms are broadening the spectrum of comparison. Business Insider recently published an article about how the coronavirus could potentially cause more deaths than the wars in Vietnam, World War I and possibly Iraq, and it could surpass the annual number of deaths caused by Alzheimer’s as well — a perverse countdown that lacked relevance to the current situation. Time similarly published an article titled, “How the Coronavirus Death Toll Compares to Other Deadly Events From American History.” 

Anyone with basic math skills can look up the number of deaths and materialize those numbers by comparing it to something else. But going down a list of destabilizing events in American history and comparing them to this pandemic seems irrelevant and insensitive. There exists no need to take an already tragic situation and compare it to a list of other destabilizing events in American history. 

Obviously, the media needs to report the facts in order to educate the public about the virus. But that doesn’t mean media outlets need to rub the grief and anxiety caused by this pandemic in our faces at all times of the day. The New York Times recently published an article titled “Ex-Wife Sick. Daughter Sick. 3 Friends Dead. Everyone Knows Someone.” 

If everyone knows someone then surely this is an unnecessary statement and definitely not news-worthy. The author may have attempted to show a more personal style of reporting, but the headline doesn’t seem personal at all. In fact, it seems overgeneralized and morbid another example of a media outlet amplifying an already explosive situation. 

And perhaps that is exactly what media outlets are trying to do — scare people. After all, not everyone is adhering to quarantine guidelines. But those who have maintained the guidelines, most Americans, don’t need to feel any more traumatized than they already do. And those who still remain unphased at this point are most likely ignoring the severity of the news briefings anyway. 

Since my life has already been consumed by this deadly virus that threatens to take the people I love everyday, I know I’d much rather get alerts on my phone that stick to the facts and show some positivity in this morbid situation. The New York Times doesn’t need to tell me why I should worry — I think that’s a given at this point. 

Write to Ana at [email protected].

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