Watching the major cable and broadcast news outlets during the coronavirus pandemic, Americans on lockdown are more than twice as likely to cry during MSNBC reports than during Fox News shows—specifically, 23 percent of MSNBC viewers have been wet-eyed and choking up versus just 10 percent of Fox News fans.
A far greater percentage of MSNBC viewers (67 percent) than Fox News viewers (45 percent) are living in fear during the lethal outbreak—which has so far killed more than 100,000 people in the United States—and the more hours they watch each day, the more terrified they become.
Fox News fans, meanwhile, are far less likely than MSNBC or CNN loyalists to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to wear masks, scarves, or bandanas over their faces when they venture outdoors. That is, 25 percent of Fox News viewers follow the example of President Donald Trump and go maskless, while only 14 percent of the folks tuned to MSNBC and CNN leave home without face coverings.
Those are just some of the results of the “COVID-19 American News Fear Index,” an extensive public-opinion survey of an online panel of 4,021 adults 18 and older (with a plus or minus 1.5 percent margin of error) that was released Thursday morning by Newsy, the 24-hour live-streaming news app that also reaches more than 40 million households via various cable and satellite television providers.
“Following the deadly spread of the novel coronavirus, Americans voraciously consumed news in March and April,” Newsy’s “Fear Index” reports. “And while some of the record ratings and blockbuster traffic is flattening, we’re getting a clearer picture of how heightened news consumption may have impacted our psyche, and how that impact differs depending on a viewer’s network of choice.”
The report asserts: “Upon breaking down the fear viewers feel in correlation to news networks watched, a trend emerges that those watching liberal-leaning sources tend to agree they’re significantly more scared.”
The online survey, conducted during the final week of April by the YouGov global polling firm, determined that only 29 percent of Fox News fans feel more stressed-out and anxious than usual while watching their favorite programs, compared to a jittery 43 percent of CNN viewers. Overall, 65 percent of U.S. residents who watch the various broadcast and cable channels (namely ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC America, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and Newsy) are worried about becoming infected with the virus.
Newsy executive Christina Hartman, however, argues that it’s no accident that viewers of her down-the-middle, melodrama-shunning outlet—which boasts newsrooms in Missouri, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Denver—tend to be marginally less fearful than those who get their opinions and information from CNN and MSNBC; on a scale of 1 to 10, Newsy’s average fear factor is 6.23 compared to 6.85 for CNN and 6.88 for MSNBC, while Fox viewers registered a zen-like 5.47. Thanks, Laura Ingraham!
Among viewers overall, women in the survey are marginally more fearful than men (6.07 compared to 5.40), while they are being significantly more diligent about observing preventative protocols. For instance, only 46 percent of men—compared to 59 percent of women—responded that they “don’t leave home, except for necessary supplies.” Meanwhile, 41 percent of women, compared to 28 percent of men, say they “feel more anxious/stressed than normal while watching the news.”
And more than twice the percentage of women than men (17 percent to 8 percent) admit, “I have cried while watching the news.”
“[I]t’s clear that there are high levels of fear, anxiety, and stress in America,” writes Hartman, vice president of news for the E.W. Scripps-owned TV outlet, “and the degree to which Americans feel this fear—and their subsequent behavior—correlates significantly with the type of news Americans are consuming.
“With a newly heightened understanding of how COVID-19-related reporting is affecting Americans and their daily actions, networks should take the opportunity to self-reflect. Do the methods they use to relay news truly do a public service? Or rather, are they prioritizing punditry over the facts and adding unnecessarily to fear?”
Hartman’s answer: Of course they are.
Speaking from Newsy’s hometown of Columbia, Missouri—around 85 miles from Lake of the Ozarks, where hundreds of maskless and, in many cases, shirtless and bikini-wearing citizens spent the holiday weekend breathing and splashing swimming-pool water on each other—Hartman told The Daily Beast, “I was talking to a neighbor over the weekend who told me he just had to stop watching the news… He told me, ‘You know, I want to keep up, but I just feel I am being made to feel a certain type of way, depending on what I’m watching’…
“We should care about how we make people feel,” Hartman added. “We believe that how we make them feel is directly connected to how frequently they come back and watch the news, and there’s a responsibility there.”
As for news reports that prompt viewers to cry, “I absolutely think that’s a disincentive,” Hartman said. “Some of us are masochists and we go back to sources that make us feel bad or sources that make us feel mad”—but that, Hartman said, is not the Newsy philosophy.
“We’re really optimistic,” she said. “One great silver lining about the pandemic for the [TV news] business, at least anecdotally,” has been what Hartman has noticed as a shift in viewers’ attitudes from fanciful beliefs and leaps of faith to fact-based knowledge.
“Living in mid-Missouri, my husband’s family tends to be a lot of conspiracy theorists, and interest in the pandemic has really changed that,” she said. “I would see a lot of members of his family sharing news from reputable sources—which I had never seen, and was really great to see… People are starting to see that getting news from Reddit and YouTube conspiracy theorists is not the way to go in matters of life and death.”
Better late than never.