Accuracy in Media

The media absolved itself of any responsibility in the last several weeks where American shoppers have panic bought items such as toilet paper, milk, eggs, bottled water, and canned goods. BuzzFeed News is no different and blamed the shoppers for buying too much and leaving little for WIC participants.

BuzzFeed News headlined the problems that WIC participants face, “This Mom Can’t Get Enough Food To Feed Her Kids Because Panicked Shoppers Are Buying All The WIC-Eligible Food.”

WIC is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which grants participants a monthly check, voucher or card to use to buy food staples. Participants include pregnant and breastfeeding mothers with low incomes and children under the age of 5. State agencies decide which brands are approved for WIC participants and the brands or goods cannot be substituted.

The article blamed panicked shoppers for hoarding many of the brands that are WIC-eligible.

“As the coronavirus spread around the world over the past few weeks, panicked shoppers have been filling their grocery carts with cans of beans, loaves of bread, and anything else they think they might need to weather weeks in quarantine or lockdown,” BuzzFeed said. Many of the WIC-eligible brands could be gone by the time that WIC participants go to the store, which leaves WIC participants scrambling to find suitable substitutes and possibly traveling to multiple stores in search of eligible brands.

Though states have the flexibility to apply for waivers to permit brand substitution during the coronavirus crisis, the situation is tough for those enrolled in WIC. Yet BuzzFeed News did not mention how the media ginned up much of the panic among shoppers with doom-and-gloom headlines and wall-to-wall media coverage.

The media has a responsibility to accurately report the news, but it also has the responsibility to maintain public order and avoid causing mass panic, such as panic buying specific groceries and causing supply problems for the less fortunate. The statistics demonstrate that the fatality rate is not as scary as the media coverage portrays it. One estimate said that the global fatality rate is 4.4% and the U.S. had a lower fatality rate of 1.2%. BuzzFeed News, and the media in general, should recognize that their reporting style contributed to panicked Americans.

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