A balanced perspective about the coronavirus would provide a great customer service to We the People. Instead, we have sensationalized media on one side proclaiming that the “sky is falling.” On the other side, we have the Trump Administration glibly maintaining that the condition is being contained.
While the media’s job in large part is to serve as a watchdog and protect the public, some of it is going overboard in the name of news ratings. Trump and his minions want to calm the financial markets with anything they can, including false claims.
A recent CNN story addresses the disservice being done by the Administration: “President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, falsely claimed on Friday that the coronavirus ‘is contained’ in the US. Another senior Trump official, counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, made a similar though slightly less definitive claim, saying that the virus ‘is being contained.’…Experts say the US has not come close to containing the coronavirus. They also say the small number of tests conducted in the United States so far has prevented the government from getting an accurate picture of how widespread the virus truly is.”
Then there’s this from ABC News: “Media faces challenges in covering coronavirus outbreak…News organizations must walk a fine line in covering coronavirus…News organizations trying to responsibly report on the growing health crisis are confronted with the task of conveying its seriousness without provoking panic, keeping up with a torrent of information while much remains a mystery and continually advising readers and viewers how to stay safe…Sensational headlines can grab attention yet also unnecessarily frighten. An Atlantic magazine article last week was headlined ‘You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus.’”
So, what’s the sweetspot to protect the public without over-alarming? In this case, it’s the facts, all the facts, and nothing but the facts. Systemically, the Trump Administration has ignored facts in the name of political gain and Trump’s personal obsession with self-aggrandizement. He’s treading on very thin ice in this case.
As far as the media, consultant and risk communication expert Peter Sandman notes in the ABC News report: “…Sensationalism actually tends to decline in these situations…‘Reporters love to sensationalize trivia or rare risks — think flesh-eating bacteria — to give their audience a vicarious thrill,’ Sandman said. ‘But when risks get serious and widespread, media coverage gets sober.’”
I would agree that in many cases, the media is trying to get it right without making ratings the chief objective. In other cases, they need to ratchet down the sensationalism and keep their focus on facts.
It’s time for the Trump Administration and the media to realize that We the People are “customers,” and serve us. We deserve excellent customer service and we’re not getting it. We’re getting just the opposite, in large part because of greed and power-mongering by both the Trump Administration and corporate-controlled media obsessed with dollars-and-cents instead of common sense.
In the case of the coronavirus outbreak, it may cost them big time.
Isn’t it interesting that despite all humankind’s efforts to control Mother Nature, she continues to show in novel and dramatic ways how she really runs the show? The more our hubris tries to tamp her down, the more she will smack us down. You listening, Trump? You paying attention, Corporate America?
Establishing consumer awareness, ensuring consumer safety and promoting education are three critical customer service functions. As everything from product counterfeiting to coronaviruses becomes more front-and-center in the eyes of the public, companies need to step up their game to provide critical information and help safeguard the public as best they can.
Read Part 1 of this series: Coronavirus claims deserve utmost scrutiny, truthtelling. Stay tuned for Part 3 next week.
Mark Lusky is a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience.
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