Accuracy in Media

The mainstream media’s headlines linked President Donald Trump’s recent “Chinese Virus” remarks to racism and xenophobia, which created a united media front against the president’s use of rhetoric to criticize the Chinese government. On Twitter and in his public remarks, Trump blamed the Chinese government for not doing enough to stop anti-American conspiracy theories and for not preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

In recent weeks, Trump has used the phrase “Chinese Virus” or “foreign virus” to describe the coronavirus, which was first contracted by Chinese civilians in Wuhan, China. The media has since criticized the president for using allegedly xenophobic or racist terminology, instead of using the government-recommended “coronavirus” or “COVID-19” terms.

The New York Times headlined the issue, “Trump defends using ‘Chinese Virus’ label, ignoring growing criticism.” Politico’s headline read, “Trump on ‘Chinese virus’ label: It’s not racist at all.’” NBC News wrote, “Trump doubles down that he’s not fueling racism, but experts say he is.”

Trump defended his remarks and said it was accurate to note that the virus originated in China, which contradicted the Chinese government’s conspiracy theories that the U.S. military spread the virus in China. The media argued that Trump’s words contradict public health officials’ warnings not to use locations in naming a disease or virus. The World Health Organization, for example, named the virus COVID-19 and recommends not using locations for disease names to avoid stigmatizing people from a location or region.

The media pointed to an uptick in anti-Asian racism and xenophobia in the United States and said that Trump’s remarks were not helping their fight against xenophobic or racist narratives.

It is debatable whether Trump’s use of the phrases “foreign virus” or “Chinese Virus” is racist or xenophobic, considering that Trump’s defense of the phrases is based on countering Chinese government anti-American conspiracy theories. Though the continual use of the phrases is disappointing and fueled another anti-Trump media narrative, it should not be the focus of the media’s reporting. The media should emphasize on the government’s response to the coronavirus and how Americans should manage their public interactions, not solely rhetoric from the Trump White House.

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