The Emergence of Politically Affiliated Dichotomies in Coronavirus Narratives
By David Metcalfe
April 10, 2020
Is the coronavirus going to destroy us all? Do we have to remain in isolation for years? Do we need total lockdown? Is it safe to leave your house? How is the virus transmitted? Do the “World Health Organization” and world leaders have good advice for us?
These are some of the important questions people are asking, and the answer depends on what source you read. If it’s a right wing source, the coronavirus is not that bad, and current measures are too extreme! If it’s a left wing source, the coronavirus is terrible, and we need more extreme lockdown measures!
Right Wing News
Tucker Carlson, the popular right wing political pundit, has, and continues to, believe that the measures being taken are too extreme, and that the virus is not that serious. He has written a bunch of articles for Fox News arguing this perspective (click here for an example).
Ann Coulter, another popular right wing political pundit, offers similar advice, saying, on March 26, “Shutting down the entire country indefinitely is probably a bad idea. But even when the time is right — by Easter, June or the fall — there will be no one to stop the quarantine because the media will continue to hype every coronavirus death, as if these are the only deaths that count and the only deaths that were preventable.” (source). The Daily Wire published an article called “Why Have We Shut Down The Country?” in which they argue that the virus is not a health crisis, saying, “Aside from New York, nationally there’s been no health system crisis.” (source).
Go check out PragerU, Brietbart, National Review, etc., etc. Just about any right wing news source, you will find the same thing: the virus is not that bad, measures are too extreme.
Left Wing News
If you ask MSNBC host Rachel Maddow about coronavirus, she’ll say, “it’s all Trump’s fault.” If you ask Rachel Maddow why there are school shootings, racism, wealth inequality, really, any problem, she’ll say, “it’s all Trump’s fault.” So, you don’t really need to watch Maddow’s show to know her opinion. All you need to know is, if something bad has happened, she’s going to somehow say that it’s Trump’s fault. In the midst of coronavirus, this means she immediately and continuously blames Trump for each new infection. Pretty much everything she’s said on the topic involves blaming Trump (source).
On her show on April 3rd, she said, “Mr. President, there are things that only you can do here. But the most important thing that you can do is put somebody in charge. You know, you’ll love it, because whoever you pick, you can blame that person at the end when there are still 100,000 or 200,000 dead Americans piled up in the nation’s funeral homes and crematoriums and cemeteries. Pick somebody you’re looking forward to scapegoating and blaming and saying that it was all their fault from the beginning. I think we could take that as a country, if putting somebody in charge, who is actually in charge, might also mean we’ll keep the numbers that low. Because as long as we don’t have a federal response that is being run by anyone, there’s no guarantee that the numbers will stay within that massive range that you’re talking about. The sky is the limit in terms of what it can be.”
She both implies that Trump is incompetent and needs a “real” leader to be in charge, and also that “the sky is the limit” in coronavirus deaths. To Maddow, the virus is extremely severe and we need to lockdown the entire country. She also said, “Having some stay-at-home orders in some places and some states and having it still be ‘do whatever you want’ in other states is insane. It was insane from the beginning, it’s absolutely insane this far into it.” (source).
The New York Times editorial board published an article called, “We’re Going Down, Down, Down, Down”, in which they said that Congress should have reacted much faster, and that, “When Congress did act, it failed to grasp the magnitude of the crisis.” (source). The Atlantic published an article called “How Will The Pandemic End?” by Ed Yong, which predicted a dire scenario, and argued for the importance of shutting down and isolating as much as possible (source).
Read CNN, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Maclean’s, etc., etc. They all believe the crisis is very severe, and that we need to shut down and isolate for a very long time.
Why Is The Difference Based In Political Affiliation?
Right wing people generally favour small government, individualism, free market economics, and a “common sense” approach. Left wing people generally favour an involved government, collectivism, socialism, and a “theoretical” approach.
If there is major government action on behalf of the collective that shuts down the economy and is based on theories from experts, you can guess very easily whether someone of a certain political affiliation will think that sounds good or bad.
When interpreting the numbers, the actions being taken by the government, the limitations on individual rights, so on and so forth, the underlying political philosophies create massive potential bias. We see this in the selective number picking, the blame/praise mentality towards government, the appeals to rights violations, the way the economic downturn is framed, and many more instances where bias can come in and draw “reality” to a place it may not exist.
How Do We Get Accuracy?
Unfortunately, there is so much misinformation in the media in our current society that it is extremely difficult to know what’s actually going on. One needs to have the ability to critically analyze information for credibility, potential bias and logical flaws, as well as compare it with the whole of information from different perspectives. This takes a lot of reading and thinking.
From my time spent reading and thinking, I have come to generally trust left wing news sources a lot more than right wing ones. This is because, in my opinion, left wing news sources do a much better job of accurately assessing the whole of expert opinion and representing it effectively. Right wing news sources too often are looking for any means by which to subvert the status quo of expert views, and appeal to “common sense” by basically saying things that common people may be inclined to believe- but which makes many logical errors if thought about more deeply. This is not to say that all right wing news is wrong and all left wing news correct, but it is to say I have found a general trend in that direction.
Two non-partisan sites that I think provide a great quality of assessment of news sources and their claims are “Snopes” and “Media Bias Fact Check”. “Snopes” does an amazing job of assessing the accuracy of any given claim that comes up in the news, while “Media Bias Fact Check” does an amazing job of showing what levels of bias and factual reporting a given source has.
It is a shame that people choose to create fake news. With tabloids it is not a big deal; it is just entertainment. But real news is not for our entertainment; it is to inform us of vitally important information. Journalists have a massive responsibility to do their best to report as accurately as possible, and to respect expert opinion to the best of their ability.
Offering different perspectives is important, as there are very large, complex philosophical underpinnings that guide our approach to various information. This is why, even as someone who generally sides with left wing news sources, I still appreciate news from a right wing perspective. However, despite the fact that I like alternative perspectives, I do not like alternative facts. We need to do a better job of staying grounded in what the facts are, and admitting to others when we are merely speculating- or admitting to ourselves that we may have bias.
The whole of experts, and any news source who supports them, are winning the coronavirus response right now. They have guided the decisions of world leaders and the masses of citizens. Ann Coulter, Tucker Carlson, and all those who think we should just let the virus run its course and not worry so much about it, are not getting their way. Time will tell who was right, and my money’s on the experts.