CNN wonders: Is the media out of touch with the public on COVID?

Short answer: Uh, yes, obviously. By “the media” we typically mean big media, and big media overwhelmingly caters to a well-educated center-left audience, precisely the niche within the culture that’s most receptive to “safety first” messaging on COVID. That’s what makes David Leonhardt’s occasional breaks with liberal COVID orthodoxy so bracing. It feels almost scandalous for a New York Times columnist to tell his audience that protracted school closures aren’t justified by the science and are doing terrible damage to kids’ development.


“The media” isn’t out of touch with that niche. They are that niche.

They’re out of touch with everyone else, but that leads to the slightly longer answer: Is there such a thing as “the media” anymore that serves the general public?

There’s a hint in Darcy’s answer that if CNN and the Times and other outlets were more in touch with the average joe, they’d have more persuasive power in getting them to adopt the “safety first” outlook. But how? In 2022, if you don’t like the message that a media outlet is promoting, you just find yourself another media outlet. And I don’t mean Fox or MSNBC. I mean some micro-niche YouTube channel that’ll tell you whatever you want to hear about COVID, Trump, the government or whatever else. If CNN is too pro-mask for you, go watch CryingEaglePatriot’s YouTube expose on The Truth Behind The Vaccines instead. If CNN has become too supportive of reopening schools for your taste, fire up ResistanceRebel’s podcast revealing about the vast secret numbers of children sick with COVID right now. (Hosted by Sonia Sotomayor!)


And bear in mind, odds are good that both of those outlets already have bigger audiences than CNN does. Plenty of fringy podcasts and YouTube clips pull hundreds of thousands of streams each week. Even the biggest cable news shows, like Tucker Carlson, do only three or four million viewers a night and the cable news audience famously skews old. Fox is a special case because of its relationship with Trump and Trump’s relationship with the Republican base, but otherwise it’s an open question in 2022 whether cable news is influencing anyone or anything to a meaningful degree apart from bloggers like me who need them for content.

Big media isn’t so big anymore. The more popular QAnon programs out there draw bigger numbers than CNN primetime, I’m sure.

So I don’t know what Darcy means when he says the media should be “messaging toward” the average American more, unless he means that major outlets like CNN and the Times should view COVID restrictions more skeptically. Which is hard to imagine; again, reporters culturally are part of the “safety first” niche. They’d have to start counterprogramming their own social instincts. And even if they did, it’s not as if CryingEaglePatriot viewers are about to start watching Brian Stelter’s show because they’ve heard CNN has softened on reopening schools.

To put it another way, the COVID divide between big media and the general public is just a symptom of the wider class-cultural divide between the two. If you’re “out of touch” generally, getting right on a discrete topic won’t make you “in touch.”


Democratic politicians would back Darcy’s advice here, though. Not because they care about CNN’s numbers but because they care about their own, and those numbers have begun to suffer due to excessive “safety first” logic in certain influential quarters.

Because they have close ties to the unions, Democrats are concerned that additional closures like those in Chicago could lead to a possible replay of the party’s recent loss in Virginia’s governor race. Polling showed that school disruptions were an important issue for swing voters who broke Republican — particularly suburban white women.

“It’s a big deal in most state polling we do,” said Brian Stryker, a partner at the polling firm ALG Research whose work in Virginia indicated that school closures hurt Democrats.

“Anyone who thinks this is a political problem that stops at the Chicago city line is kidding themselves,” added Mr. Stryker, whose firm polled for President Biden’s 2020 campaign. “This is going to resonate all across Illinois, across the country.”…

Jim Hobart, a partner at Public Opinion Strategies, a polling firm that counts several Republican senators and governors as clients, said the school closure issue created two advantages for G.O.P. candidates. It has helped narrow their margins among a demographic they’ve traditionally struggled with — white women between their mid-20s and mid-50s — and it has generally undermined Democrats’ claims to competence.

Making the case that being in class isn’t dangerous for kids might not get CNN any new red-state viewers but it could soften up opposition to in-person instruction among center-left parents who are still cautious. If so, that would put pressure on the unions to cave. And the unions caving would be good for Democrats’ long-term political health.


A media that wanted to be “in touch” with the average American on COVID would probably stop covering the pandemic altogether. The country is sick with Omicron, exasperated at not being able to get tested, and tired of isolating to avoid a virus that now seems unavoidable and no longer dangerous if you’ve had your shots. They’re moving on.

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David Strom 5:20 PM | April 15, 2024