US Nationwide Coronavirus Newspaper Coverage of Federal/National Government Responses: Community Structure Theory and a “Violated Buffer”

John C. Pollock, Suchir Govindarajan, Alexis Marta, James N. Sparano


Community structure analysis (Pollock, 2007, 2013a, 2015) compared city characteristics and newspaper coverage of federal/Trump administration coro­navirus responses in 18 major US cities, sampling all 250+ word articles from 01/28/20 to 04/03/20. The resulting 123 articles were coded for “promi­nence” and “direction” (favorable/un­favorable/balanced-neutral coverage), then combined into each newspaper’s composite “Media Vector” (range= 0.3850 to -0.6433, or 1.033). Fifteen of 18 newspapers (83%) displayed negative coverage of federal COVID-19 responses.

Pearson correlations and regression analysis confirmed a robust “violated buffer” pattern (higher proportions of economically/socially “buffered” privi­leged groups are associated with neg­ative coverage of “biological threats or threats to a cherished way of life”: Pollock, 2007: 101), manifest in polit­ical and religious polarization and links between health access or generational privilege and negative coverage of feder­al COVID-19 actions. Higher proportions voting Democratic or Catholic member­ship in cities were associated strongly with negative coverage of federal efforts, while voting Republican and Evangelical membership accompanied positive feder­al coverage, evoking nationwide partisan “tribalism”. Privileged healthcare access (physicians/100,000, municipal health­care spending) and economically “privi­leged” age groups 45-64 and 65+ were all connected to negative coverage of federal COVID-19 responses, illuminat­ing overall “violated” expectations that the national government is responsible for nationwide disaster protection.

Keywords: COVID-19, community struc­ture theory, newspapers, government, media.

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