Media outlets routinely shame anyone who can be accused of taking the coronavirus threat too lightly, but it’s rare to see anyone punished for dramatically overplaying the threat.
In his “Fourth Watch” e-mail newsletter, former CNN digital editor Steve Krakauer strongly questioned the Daily Beast: “How Did This Get Published? Daily Beast on teachers that died with COVID.”
The Daily Beast posted a misleading clickbait headline on September 9: “At Least 4 Teachers Have Died of COVID-19 Since Start of School Year,” with the added subhead of “HEARTBREAKING.”
It wasn’t even their own reporting, but a hyperbolic caricature of a report from the Associated Press.
The Beast story describes the news as "an ominous sign of what’s to come as students return to classrooms across the country" -- a characterization sure to provide maximum impact with the reader.
The truth, however, is different than the article makes it seem. The AP story describes them as "teacher deaths," but also makes clear that the teachers in the story died through COVID-19 factors that were completely separate from returning to in-person school. For one teacher it was through church. Another, it was summer football practice. The teachers in the story neither contracted coronavirus at school, nor were even known to have spread it to anyone since the school year began.
AP's Jim Salter and Leah Willingham told some sad stories, but disconnected from students arriving for classes:
AshLee DeMarinis was just 34 when she died Sunday after three weeks in the hospital. She taught social skills and special education at John Evans Middle School in Potosi, Missouri....
In Potosi, in-person classes started Aug. 24. DeMarinis was already hospitalized by then but had been in the school preparing for the year a couple of weeks earlier, her sister, Jennifer Heissenbuttel said. Superintendent Alex McCaul said contact tracing determined she had no close contact with any teachers, students or staff.
In Oxford, Mississippi, 42-year-old Nacoma James taught at a middle school and helped coach high school football. He died Aug. 6 during the first week of classes, but was self-quarantining when teachers and students returned to the classroom.
Krakauer noted professor and writer Zeynep Tufekci took the Beast to task for this misrepresentation to the readers. "The info ecology has switched from underplaying the threat to scaremongering—human nature plus business incentives. It's easy to laugh at QAnon folks who fear widespread cult kidnappings of children but alarmism directed at children is eternal," she tweeted. "It's become difficult to have an evidence-based conversation about this but we must try because children are also being gravely harmed by closed schools."