Accuracy in Media

NBC News repeated the false narrative that Black Lives Matter protests have not led to more coronavirus-positive cases in the U.S. It continued the media’s overall narrative that crowded protests were not dangerous to public health, which relied on an incomplete academic study.

The news outlet headlined their defense of crowded protests, “Black Lives Matter protests haven’t led to COVID-19 spikes. It may be due to people staying home.” NBC News cited a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which claimed that protests did not lead to a spike in coronavirus cases. But the news outlet buried a lingering contradiction in the incomplete study in the ninth and tenth paragraphs.

NBC News acknowledged that the study said that it was possible that protests caused an increase of coronavirus cases among protesters. But it also claimed that the potential virus spread among protesters was offset by the number of people who stayed home and avoided participating in the protests.

The accompanying photograph for the article also featured protesters wearing masks, but there were several protesters without masks or they were wearing them incorrectly with the nose exposed. Public health officials encouraged protesters to wear masks properly to avoid spreading the coronavirus through air particles, which could happen if a single unmasked protester coughed or sneezed amid a crowd of protesters. The photograph itself undermined the study’s claim about protesters taking necessary public health precautions.

NBC News followed the example of mainstream media counterpart CNN in citing the incomplete study. Although NBC News acknowledged it was not peer-reviewed and that it was only a working paper, it went ahead and claimed that the study validated ongoing crowded protests.

Typically, studies publish working papers as a preliminary step in the research process. They undergo a peer-review process, where other academics attempt to replicate the working paper’s findings. If the findings are replicated, the study eventually becomes a verified academic study.

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