Accuracy in Media

After President Donald Trump’s address on the coronavirus this week, CNN has analyzed one of his lines in-depth to allegedly prove his xenophobia. During his speech, Trump said, “”This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.” He added, “I am confident that by counting and continuing to take these tough measures we will significantly reduce the threat to our citizens and we will ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus.”

One of CNN’s post-speech analyses said that his speech “basked in… xenophobia” and CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta echoed the same line in his report to the cable news network. To add more credibility to CNN’s claim, the cable news network interviewed historians and history scholars about the president’s alleged xenophobic language.

CNN headlined their claim, “What historians heard when Trump warned of a ‘foreign virus’” and quoted five academics throughout the article. Rutgers assistant professor of history Nükhet Varlik told CNN that Trump’s speech was xenophobic and that it was “mind-blowing that this still continues.” She said that she found the rhetoric “extremely dangerous” for a president to say on national television.

CNN added, “It’s the latest chapter in a story that historians see as centuries in the making,” and cited five historical examples of disease and accompanying xenophobia:

  • The bubonic plague, or the ‘Black Death’ in the 1300s,
  • New York cholera outbreaks in the 1800s,
  • San Francisco’s quarantine in the late 1800s,
  • Ellis Island immigrant inspections,
  • SARS in 2003.

One academic, Doug Chan, said that Americans tend to be xenophobic “when facing adversity.” He said, “It’s the disturbing American tendency to racialize the adversity very quickly, and we’re seeing manifestations of that” with the coronavirus news. Sociology professor Ho-Fung Hung at Johns Hopkins University told CNN that Trump’s “foreign virus” phrase is counter-productive because “it is too late and it is useless to just frame it as a ‘foreign virus.’” He added that it only adds to stereotyping and it is not useful to promote the phrase.

CNN and its sources glanced over the fact that the coronavirus began in Wuhan, China, which fact should validate Trump’s use of the phrase “foreign virus.” Instead, CNN was more concerned about linking the phrase to xenophobia to prove a point. The cable news network should refrain from injecting allegations of Trump’s xenophobia into its news coverage and focus on calming the public’s fears about the coronavirus.

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