Accuracy in Media

NBC News, Bloomberg, and other mainstream media outlets criticized President Donald Trump’s use of the phrase “Chinese Virus” to describe the coronavirus. Much of the news coverage have called the coronavirus by its name and refrained from these types of phrases to avoid stigmatizing Chinese citizens and racist undertones.

NBC News headlined Trump’s phrase, “Trump tweets about coronavirus using term ‘Chinese Virus’” and cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance to avoid the “inaccurate and potentially harmful” phrase that promotes “racist associations” of the virus and Chinese citizens.

NBC News also reminded readers the Trump previously used the phrase “foreign virus” to describe the coronavirus. Multiple Asian-American associations criticized the use of “foreign virus” and “Chinese Virus” and said that it could fuel xenophobia among Americans.

NBC News’s article did not mention the Chinese government’s disinformation campaign on Twitter to blame the coronavirus on the U.S. government. Though federal authorities have a good case for avoiding the phrases “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus,” Trump’s use of the phrases could be a direct response to the Chinese government’s misleading social media campaign. Several Chinese government officials claimed promoted the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus did not start in China on Twitter, but the mainstream media declined to include that as context for Trump’s various phrases for the coronavirus.

Bloomberg News published the headline, “Trump’s ‘Chinese Virus’ Tweet Adds Fuel to Fire With Beijing,” and said that Trump’s rhetoric is “stepping up friction” between China and the United States “as each tries to deflect blame for a deadly pandemic.” Bloomberg also mentioned Trump’s prior use of the phrase “foreign virus” in its article. But unlike NBC News, it included information that the Chinese government is blaming the United States for the virus and is utilizing “propaganda efforts” to promote conspiracy theories and anti-American narratives.

The media criticized Trump’s use of multiple phrases that noted Chinese origins of the coronavirus, but it also neglected to point out the possibility that Trump is using it as a negotiating tool or tactic with China. China and the Trump administration continue to stand at odds over Chinese technology companies like Huawei and ByteDance (the latter owns the popular social media app TikTok). NBC News also failed to provide adequate context on China’s disinformation campaign, which campaign blamed the United States for the coronavirus. It was not the first time that Trump’s words led to media criticism, but the media was too focused on one aspect of the controversy and not the overall political implications of Trump’s criticism of China’s coronavirus response.

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