Spinning COVID At CNS
CNSNews.com spent much of 2020 trying its best to put a pro-Trump spin on coronavirus case and death numbers by attempting to downplay new surges of the virus.
By Terry Krepel
At the MRC's "news" division, CNSNews.com, writers were achieving the same narrative in a different way, by cherry-picking numbers and making the current surge sound minor by comparing it to the pandemic's peak earlier this year.
CNS' attempt to spin numbers actually began shortly after the pandemic did. Patrick Goodenough wrote in a March 20 article: "A study by infectious disease experts at the University of Hong Kong and Harvard University found that the probability of dying after developing COVID-19 symptoms is about 1.4 percent significantly lower than the 3.4 percent estimate cited by the World Health Organization in early March. The report comes as the number of deaths worldwide attributed to the novel coronavirus passed the 10,000 mark overnight."
Goodenough returned to downplay death rates in the U.S. in a March 30 article headlined "COVID-19 Deaths: Italy, 1 in 5,789 People; United States, 1 in 157,499." He began by complaining that "critics are trashing President Trump over the fact the U.S. is now reporting more confirmed COVID-19 cases than any other country,"then declared: "But numbers of confirmed cases are a function of testing. As testing in the U.S. has ramped up, it was only a matter of time before that testing would detect sizeable numbers of cases moving through the American population."
Of course, since this was very early in the pandemic, those numbers became obsolete almost immediately.
Goodenough again touted lower death estimates in an April 1 article: "Another academic study is estimating a significantly lower COVID-19 death rate than the 3.4 percent approximation cited by the World Health Organization in early March an estimate which President Trump was roundly criticized for questioning."
Goodenough went on to complain that "critics pounced" on Trump when he called an earlier, higher death estimate a "false number," suggesting that Trump was correct to do so -- something totally on-brand for CNS.
Susan Jones did so in an April 6 article by using it to temper bad news:
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned on Sunday that this will be "the hardest and the saddest week" of our lives, as the death toll from coronavirus continues to climb above the current 9,600-plus.
The same day, Goodenough contributed another body-count article written to make the U.S. (and, thus, Trump) look good:
Of the 12 countries reporting the highest numbers of confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease COVID-19, the United States has the third-lowest fatality rate.
Goodenough spun those death numbers further in an April 17 article:
Despite the grim and still-climbing COVID-19 death toll in the United States, of the 14 Western countries reporting the highest numbers of fatalities linked to the coronavirus disease, the U.S. remains on the lower end of the scale of death rates in proportion to the national population.
A pandemic is arguably not the best subject to be conducting horse-race coverage on. But that's how CNS rolls.
Summer surge spin
CNS cranked up the spin during the summer surge. Jones wrote in a July 7 article in the first of this series, under the headline "CDC: COVID-19 Deaths Peaked in Mid-April; Down 86% by Week Ending June 20":
The number of deaths involving COVID-19 in the United States peaked at 16,394 in the week ending on April 18, 2020, according to the provisional COVID-19 death counts published by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), which is a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While Jones led with those numbers, the last half of her article carried a bunch of caveats -- specifically, that the most recent numbers are not set in stone and are subject to revision; as she wrote, "CDC also noted that states report at different rates, although 63 percent of all U.S. deaths are reported within 10 days of the date of death."
Indeed, the CDC's number for COVID-19-related deaths for the week ending June 20 was ultimately 3,816 -- a more than 50 percent increase from the number Jones reported. That tells you that Jones' reporting here is politically driven to downplay the current surge.
Jones followed this with a July 14 article with the blaring headline "CDC: COVID-19 Deaths for Week Ending June 27 Down 91.9% From Mid-April Peak," going on to state that "In the week that ended on June 27, there were 1,363 deaths in the United States involving COVID-19, which was a 91.9 percent drop from the peak of 16,895 COVID-involved deaths reported for the week that ended on April 18." The CDC's death count for that week ended up being 3,800 -- nearly three times the number Jones reported.
On July 21, Jones touted under the headline "CDC: COVID Deaths for Week Ending July 4 Down 83% From Peak; Down 9% From Prior Week": "In the week that ended on July 4, 2,818 people in this country died from the COVID-19 virus, which is an 83.36 percent drop from the peak of 16,941 COVID-involved deaths reported for the week that ended on April 18." The final CDC number for that week is 4,498.
Jones did bow to reality a little in her July 27 article, conceding that numbers are going up and revising the previous week's numbers upward -- while still portraying that as below the April peak:
After falling for ten straight weeks, COVID-involved deaths in the United States began rising again during the week that ended on July 4 and continued to rise in the week that ended on July 11, according to data published by the CDC.
The CDC is currently reporting that 5,735 people died in the week ending July 11.
Jones' Aug. 3 article read pretty much the same:
The most recent death certificates submitted to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that COVID-involved deaths in this country declined in the second half of July.
Jones did concede in the third paragraph that "as CDC notes, data in recent weeks is more likely to be incomplete. The numbers change as more death certificates come in, but it now appears to be a declining trend for the second half of July."
It's in her employer's political interests that the "declining trend" be the narrative, even if future numbers say otherwise. And they didn't; the CDC's death count for that week is 7,132.
Jones' Aug. 11 body count was a little closer to reality but still labored to spin by including mid-April numbers for comparison:
As expected, the most recent death certificates submitted to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show at least three straight weeks of increased deaths involving the COVID-19 virus.
In fact, contrary to her claim that CNS "previously reported" deaths were rising, her case-count article from the previous week claimed differently carrying the headline "CDC: COVID-Involved Deaths Drop 8.29% for Week Ending July 18." So much for that the "declining trend" narrative.
Jones repeated the formula for her Aug. 17 weekly update:
According to the latest death certificates submitted to the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, deaths involving COVID-19 increased in all four weeks that ended in July. (Data for August are still too preliminary to be reliable.)
At least Jones admitted up top that newer data "are still too preliminary to be reliable," an inconvenient fact she buried in previous articles.
For the following week, numbers looked better from her perspective, so it was back to full spin mode:
Deaths attributed to COVID-19 are once again trending down, based on preliminary death certificates submitted to the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This time, she added a plug for her favorite president, something she didn't do in the articles admitting that cases were up:
"We are doing an incredible job on the China virus, but I'm going to talk to about that Thursday night," President Trump said in his speech to the Republican National Convention on Monday. "Will anybody be listening on Thursday?" he joked.
By Aug. 31, Jones was back to fully downplaying things, under the headline "CDC: COVID-Involved Deaths in Mid-August Down 63% From April Peak." This time, she added: "The official COVID-involved death count does not distinguish between COVID-only deaths and deaths where COVID may have exacerbated an otherwise survivable underlying condition." The spin continued in Jones' Sept. 8 article:
COVID deaths for the week ending August 22 have returned to levels not seen since the end of June.
Jones did other COVID-related spinning in a July 17 article touting lower death counts among younger people:
Medical experts have long noted that the younger you are, the less likely you are to contract COVID-19 or suffer adverse symptoms, and the latest numbers posted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention bear that out.
Jones went on to uncritically promote arguments from President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence that this proves schools should reopen fully, while going on to complain that "teachers unions are resisting" -- while censoring the fact that health experts have also advised caution regarding fully opening schools.
Jones further declared in an Aug. 4 article that "The latest CDC data shows that the 26 states led by Republican governors have fewer than half the COVID-involved deaths of the 24 states (and D.C.) led by Democrats." She added: "Of course, states led by Republican governors are not necessarily conservative or "red" states. But of the 30 "red" states that helped elect Donald Trump in 2016, COVID-involved deaths now total 51,631, which is 59.07 percent of the 87,406 COVID deaths in the 20 states and D.C. that voted for Hillary Clinton."
Gotta keep spinning for Trump and Republicans, right? That's what Jones gets paid to do.
As the election moved closer, the pro-Trump spin on the numbers ramped up. A Sept. 15 article by Jones carried the headline "COVID-19 Deaths in Last Week of August Down 83.8% From April Peak and touted how "the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 has now declined for at least five straight weeks since late July." Jones shifted her spin in a Sept. 22 article:
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 283,358 new cases of coronavirus in this county in the last seven days -- 37,417 reported yesterday -- for a total of 6,786,352 presumed or diagnosed cases since the first reported cases in February.
In another Sept. 22 article, Jones tried to shift blame for the virus in an article headlined "CDC: Adult Obesity, a Risk Factor for COVID, Is Increasing," making sure to highlight that obesity "increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19."
Jones' Sept. 29 article was a bit of a corrective, but still featured her old spin:
As more death certificates are tabulated by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, it now appears that the COVID death toll ticked up, not down, in the week that ended on August 1, by the very smallest of margins.
Jones had somewhat less spin and more reality in her Oct. 6 article:
Updated numbers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that since mid-July, approximately one thousand people have died every day in this country from COVID-19.
Jones tried to spin harder in her Oct. 13 article, lamenting "new cases in all 50 states and the District of Columbia over the last seven days, with the highest per-capita increases in the upper Midwest/West" but declaring that "at the same time, data based on death certificates submitted to CDC show deaths have been dropping since the week ending August 1."
Goodenough tried his hand at spinning COVID in an Oct. 13 article by finding a new way to count dead people: "As a proportion of the national population, the United States has accounted for fewer deaths attributed to the coronavirus this month than any other major country in the Western Hemisphere except for Canada, although still more than those in Western Europe." That's what spinning for Trump is all about.
As the presidential election drew closer in late October, Jones and CNS seriously ramped up that pro-Trump spin by comparing numbers to the initial surge in April.
An anonymously written Oct. 14 article served up its own very familiar pro-Trump and anti-media spin: "While the liberal media are doing all they can to try to discredit Dr. Scott Atlas, M.D., a special adviser to President Donald Trump and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, he has released five simple facts about COVID-19 to lucidly explain 'what the science tells us about this virus.'" CNS didn't say when this email was sent or to whom, though it did uncritically transcribe the email. Nor did CNS mention the fact a couple weeks earlier, CDC leader Dr. Robert Redfield expressed concern that Atlas was misinforming the public on a variety of coronavirus-related issues. For instance, Atlas stated in his email that "Children and Young Adults Are at Extremely Low Risk for Serious Illness or Death from COVID-19," while Redfield pointed out that one-fourth of new infections were among young adults ages 18 to 25.
Jones served up more pro-Trump stenography in an Oct. 22 article headlined "Trump: On Cable News, 'All You Hear Is COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID'." After uncritically transcribing a rant from Trump, she added, "As CNSNews.com reported, the number of COVID cases is accelerating, but with better treatments available, the death count,based on death certificates submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, resumed" -- then strangely cut off. Either that was an editing error, or perhaps Jones herself was getting bored with spinning so hard.
An Oct. 27 "news" article by Jones was even more aggressively a Trump campaign press release:
"The Fake News Media is riding COVID, COVID, COVID, all the way to the Election. Losers!" President Donald Trump tweeted on Monday.
Jones got in one final bit of pro-Trump spin in a Nov. 3 article, the day of the election:
COVID-involved deaths in recent weeks are well below the numbers recorded this past summer, based on death certificates submitted to the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Jones managed to avoid mentioning Trump's name in the article, but there was no doubt for whose benefit she wrote it. And she waited until the final paragraph to note information that contradicted her spin: "CDC says cases are spiking in many states -- particularly in the upper West/Midwest (Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin) and in Rhode Island."
After the election
Jones' first coronavirus-related article after the election, on Nov. 10, started ominously: "The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counts a total of 9,913,553 COVID cases in this country since January, with 105,142 new cases reported on Monday alone." But then she went into her usual bogus downplaying: "As the number of COVID cases escalates, deaths are nowhere near the record set in mid-April."
The next day, Jones attacked Dr. Michael Osterholm, a member of President-elect Joe Biden's COVID-19 advisory board (not that Jones was ready to identify Biden as president-elect, mind you) for predicting the U.S. could see 200,000 cases by the Christmas holidays because "he is on record as advocating another lockdown." She then tried to deflect by throwing out per-capita coronavirus numbers:
According to the latest data from the federal Centers for Disease Control Prevention, 122,910 new COVID cases were reported in the past 24 hours, or 34.6 cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days.
But Osterholm's prediction turned out to be correct: In the following weeks, the number of new cases regularly averaged more than 200,000.
Jones spun further in a Nov. 17 article:
An average of 4,256 people died of COVID in September, about the same as the average 4,206 who died in June. Those two months mark the low point so far for COVID deaths in this country.
By Dec. 1, however, Jones had to admit a little bit of reality about rising case and mortality numbers, while still desperately invoking the higher April numbers for comparison:
"COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths across the United States are rising," the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website.
But in a Dec. 10 article, Jones was back in hard-spin mode even as cases and deaths skyrocket by focusing on an age group with the lowest fatality rate:
The number of COVID-involved deaths in this country -- 15,594 in the last seven days -- is now reaching levels not seen since the mid-April peak, according to the official tally maintained by the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That's the kind of spin that keeps one employed at CNS.
But as the pandemic rose to new heights, Jones couldn't credibly stick to that narrative. So the spin in her Dec. 17 article was that, yes, more people are dying, but they're mostly old people so it's not that bad:
In the past week, Wednesday to Wednesday, another 14,527 people, at least, died of coronavirus in this country, according to the most recent data posted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Jones went on to concede that "the COVID death toll has been rising sharply since early October" and that "the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging Americans to "act now" to slow the spread" as winter sets in and holiday gathering occur. Trump's name did not appear at all.
But that, apparently, was all the honesty about coronavirus that CNS could handle, because that was the last of these type of articles that Jones has written. While Jones did take some time off around the holidays, she has been on the job since Jan. 13, and COVID numbers are apparently no longer her concern, even though new cases and deaths kept exploding.
Perhaps the change in presidents will bring a new concern over the numbers -- after all, she can now spin them to blame Biden.