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FiveThirtyEight editor Nate Silver said the mainstream media is not giving proper context to stories on the rise of coronavirus cases, which he calls a “basic error” that reveals an agenda to prioritize narratives that “sound smart” over accuracy and truth.
Silver was bothered that certain stories failed to mention that some growth in the coronavirus infection number is a result of an increase in testing.
“Not providing context on the increase in testing is such a basic error, and has been so widespread, that it's revealing about the media's goals. It's more interested in telling plausibly-true stories ("narratives") that sound smart to its audience than in accuracy/truth per se,” Silver said in response to author James Surowiecki calling out recent reports from Axios and The New York Times.
“That doesn't mean it's just making stuff up or engaging in fake news,” Silver added. “On the contrary, the facts it relays are generally accurate in isolation. But the problems are in how facts are strung together and emphasized. Often there are sins of omission (e.g. no context on testing).”
Silver sent a third tweet noting that President Trump has “figured this out.”
“BTW, Trump has figured this out! By focusing on case counts, the media creates disincentives to do more testing because it makes the numbers look superficially worse. One reason (not the only one) why we're not pushing for testing as much as we should,” he wrote.
Mediaite noticed that Axios updated its story after Silver’s criticism.
“The tweet prompted at least one outlet to update a story to acknowledge that increases in testing have led to more cases being diagnosed,” Mediaite’s Rudy Takala wrote. “Axios subsequently updated the story linked in the exchange, noting, ‘This story has been updated to clarify that increased testing could be part of the reason the number of cases in the U.S. is rising.’
Mediaite then pointed out, “The New York Times on Monday published a story containing similar claims, titled, ‘As Trump pushes to reopen, government sees virus toll nearly doubling.’”