Could the media have done better? Of course it could have—that is always true. Vox’s Piper recently posted a Twitter thread grappling with her part in the failure to push hard enough for the facts. “I didn’t want to sound alarmist,” Piper wrote. “I didn’t want to step out ahead of public health officials, who were still telling us that the risk was low. I wanted to tell readers what scientists were saying, and they too were trying not to sound alarmist.”
But there is a world of difference between such introspection and using cherry-picked “headlines from the left” to deflect criticism of Trump’s negligence or of coronavirus denialism on the right. Some mainstream media outlets may have run regrettable “nothing to see here” articles in late January and early February; many mainstream journalists may have been insufficiently diligent and willing to ask questions. But this does not begin to compare to the dismal record of the president and the right-wing media, such as Trump’s insistence on downplaying the pandemic well into March when the full scope of the looming disaster was already clear, or the drumbeat of coronavirus trutherism from conservative outlets and pro-Trump pundits like former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, The Federalist’s Sean Davis, activist Candace Owens, and far too many others. (Some of them are still pushing it: After songwriter Adam Schlesinger died of COVID-19 complications on April 1 at the age of 52, Owens started a rumor—apparently based on misreading a Google search results—that he had been battling pancreatic cancer and that the media were covering it up, presumably to stoke fear that the disease is killing healthy people in their prime.)
To be sure, not all the conservative media-bashers are covering for Trump and Trumpists. For some, it really is all about judging the mainstream media, which they see as intellectually and morally corrupt and mired in “social justice” ideology. But such a judgment, however deserved in many cases, can easily lead into the temptation of fitting the facts to the narrative: If you expect the media to view everything through the lens of identity politics, you’ll see it even where it doesn’t exist.