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Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, as we confronted questions about social distancing, masking wearing, and vaccines, public safety experts warned that the consequences of a misinformed population would be particularly dire due to the serious nature of the threat and necessity of severe collective action to keep the population safe. Thus, the media and the political elites (e.g., President of the United States) who possess the power to set the information agenda around COVID-19 bear a huge responsibility for the general welfare. Through automated text analysis of complete transcripts of national cable, network, and local news, we explore their narratives surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and we characterize the differences in which topics were covered and how they were covered by various media sources. Our analysis reveals polarized narratives around blame, racial and economic disparities, and scientific conclusions about COVID-19. Among the various agenda-setting mechanisms available to the president is daily press conferences, which provide a unique opportunity to leverage public exposure, accelerated by the state of crisis. We found both resonance and contrast between the narratives of media and President press conferences. However, as online search data revealed, public information-seeking behavior resemble media coverage more than the President's messages.


This article was originally published in Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media, volume 2, in 2022.

This scholarship is part of the Chapman University COVID-19 Archives.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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