President Joe Biden’s administration wants news outlets to “dial back” their “irresponsible” and “overheated” coverage of the Delta variant. They believe it is being done “for eyeballs” at the expense of the crucial vaccination effort, according to Mediaite.
Many outlets faced incredible backlash previously from viewers over their framing of COVID-19 cases, which is in decline as a percentage of vaccinated people; the susceptibility of vaccinated people to the Delta variant, which is infinitesimal; and, the rate vaccinated people could transmit the variant.
The pushback from the White House included an all-caps correction to the New York Times, which claimed vaccinated and unvaccinated people spread the Delta variant at the same rates.
On Friday, Ben Wakana, the Deputy Director of Strategic Communications and Engagement to the White House COVID-19 Response Team, said: "VACCINATED PEOPLE DO NOT TRANSMIT THE VIRUS AT THE SAME RATE AS UNVACCINATED PEOPLE AND IF YOU FAIL TO INCLUDE THAT CONTEXT YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG."
Also on Friday, Wakana pushed back against a Washington Post claim that a CDC study attributed three-quarters of those infected in a massive Massachusetts COVID-19 outbreak to being previously vaccinated. He called the outlet "completely irresponsible."
"3 days ago the CDC made clear that vaccinated individuals represent a VERY SMALL amount of transmission occurring around the country," said Wakana. "Virtually all hospitalizations and deaths continue to be among the unvaccinated. Unreal to not put that in context."
Two Biden officials spoke to CNN’s Oliver Darcy about the issue, one of whom told Darcy that "the media’s coverage doesn’t match the moment. It has been hyperbolic and frankly irresponsible in a way that hardens vaccine hesitancy." They added that the biggest problem remains unvaccinated people getting and spreading the virus.
Darcy said that as the Biden officials explained to him, "the administration is worried that the media’s focus on these instances of breakthrough infections might lead to people being more hesitant to get a vaccine."
"Think about it," he said, "If you’re a young person, and already believe you will be ok if you do get infected, why would you now get a vaccine, given that coverage suggests you can still just as easily become infected and spread the virus after receiving a shot?"
"The worry about this line of messaging from major media sources worried officials so much, I’m told," added Darcy, "that they reached out to several major news organizations with the aim of getting them to dial back the coverage."
A source familiar with the situation confirmed that media coverage was "inaccurately hyping the news and misrepresenting it without context." According to the source, the Biden administration feels that "news outlets experiencing a quantifiable ratings dip from Trump being gone are being irresponsible for eyeballs, in ways that could diminish the scientifically indisputable case for vaccinations."