COVID-19 Coverage Spotlights Cable News Audience Divide

How the public perceives media coverage of the pandemic and what they say about the virus depends on which news outlet they identify as their main source of news on COVID-19. 

That is according to the latest weekly edition of Pew Research Center's Election News Pathways Project. 

That is a follow-up to an earlier finding that there was a clear political divide over perceptions of coverage. 

In the latest survey (of 8,914 U.S. adults), 66% of those who cited MSNBC as their main source of COVID-19 news said that the virus had come about naturally versus 37% of those who identified Fox News as their go-to source. 

As to how long it would take to come up with a vaccine, 78% of MSNBC watchers said a year or more, while 51% of Fox News watchers said so.  

CNN fans fell between the two extremes. 

There is also a big divide among MSNBC and Fox News viewers over how well the media has covered the pandemic. 

Among MSNBC fans, 92% said that the media in general covered it somewhat or very well, versus 58% of Fox News fans who said that. More than three quarters of Fox News fans (79%) said the media exaggerated the risks posed by the pandemic (the survey was conducted March 10-16, before the explosion of cases in the U.S.), while only 35% of MSNBC fans said so. CNN fans were almost as sanguine about media coverage, with 82% saying it was somewhat or very well covered, though more than half (54%) said they thought the risk had been exaggerated. 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.