Biden administration officials on Friday ripped media outlets over their hyped reports that some Americans who were fully vaccinated for COVID-19 were testing positive for the virus once again.
Leading the way was Ben Wakana, the White House Deputy Director of Strategic Communications & Engagement, who took to Twitter to post an all-caps response to a New York Times report with the headline, “Breaking News: The Delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox and may be spread by vaccinated people as easily as the unvaccinated, an internal C.D.C. report said.”
“VACCINATED PEOPLE DO NOT TRANSMIT THE VIRUS AT THE SAME RATE AS UNVACCINATED PEOPLE AND IF YOU FAIL TO INCLUDE THAT CONTEXT YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG,” Wakana wrote.
VACCINATED PEOPLE DO NOT TRANSMIT THE VIRUS AT THE SAME RATE AS UNVACCINATED PEOPLE AND IF YOU FAIL TO INCLUDE THAT CONTEXT YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG. https://t.co/gBkDbJ21xX
— Ben Wakana (@benwakana46) July 30, 2021
Meanwhile, The Washington Post wrote a similar-sounding headline that was reportedly also edited to less dire after the story was initially posted: “CDC study shows three-fourths of people infected in Massachusetts covid-19 outbreak were vaccinated.”
“Completely irresponsible,” Wakana responded. “3 days ago the CDC made clear that vaccinated individuals represent a VERY SMALL amount of transmission occurring around the country. Virtually all hospitalizations and deaths continue to be among the unvaccinated. Unreal to not put that in context.”
“Let’s be clear,” he tweeted in a follow-up. “If 10 vaccinated people walk into a room full of COVID, about 9 of them would walk out of the room WITH NO COVID. Nine of them.”
Such “breakthrough” cases were inevitable, critics say, since at no time did the federal government or makers of the three vaccines that have been approved under emergency use guidelines advertise them as 100-percent effective.
One of the biggest media offenders was NBC News, which initially reported the story under the headline: “Breakthrough Covid cases are on the rise among the vaccinated.” As of this writing, the headline has since been edited to read, “Breakthrough Covid cases: Data shows how many vaccinated Americans have tested positive.”
A subhead under the headline was much more tempered — and accurate: “The 125,682 “breakthrough” cases in 38 states represent less than .08 percent of the 164.2 million-plus people fully vaccinated since January.”
The initial headline was considered problematic, to say the least, by media critics who note that only about half the U.S. population is fully vaccinated for the virus, but the initial headline that NBC News chose appeared to make it sound as though the vaccines, in sum, are highly ineffective, when data shows that they are just the opposite.
NBC correspondent Ken Dilanian also hyped the extremely low vaccine breakthrough rate in a tweet (his account is private), writing on Friday, “Exclusive: At least 125,000 fully vaccinated Americans tested positive for Covid.”
Media Matters senior fellow Matthew Gertz took the Post to task for the way in which the paper framed the headline and the story — as though there’s a bigger issue with vaccine efficacy than there is which, again, will make it far more difficult to convince more Americans they work.
Please don't do this.
Provincetown has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country.
As vaccination rates increase the percentage of cases that are in vaccinated people NECESSARILY increases. pic.twitter.com/23DurW6xfa
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) July 30, 2021
“Please don’t do this. Provincetown has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country. As vaccination rates increase the percentage of cases that are in vaccinated people NECESSARILY increases,” he wrote in a tweet that included a screengrab of the Post’s initial headline, which read: “CDC study shows three-fourths of people infected in Massachusetts covid-19 outbreak were vaccinated.”
Later, a Twitter user pointed out that the Post had revised its headline with another screengrab showing the additional words “but few required hospitalization.”
— Charles #GetVaxxed! 💉 (@charles_gaba) July 30, 2021
Social media users also blasted the press reports.
“This is an extremely misleading and irresponsible tweet you should delete and try again with the context that its only true if the vaccinated person contracts the virus in the first place which is extremely rare,” one wrote in response to the Times story.
“Change the misleading subhead, being vaccinated doesn’t make you more likely to get severely ill. Bump the last two paragraphs up to the top. And ditch the chickenpox sensationalism in the headline. What are you playing at here?” another wrote.
GOP Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan seized on a similarly hyped CNBC lead, writing, “A responsible headline would read: 99.93% of fully vaccinated Americans have not tested positive. The COVID vaccine works.”
A responsible headline would read: 99.93% of fully vaccinated Americans have not tested positive. The COVID vaccine works. https://t.co/BkZpP2q7rd
— Rep. Peter Meijer (@RepMeijer) July 30, 2021
Warning: Strong language
Fandom managing editor Eric Golden clapped back at Dilanian and NBC News, noting, “These headlines are so go**amn irresponsible in an incredibly dangerous, cynical way. Yes, the subheadline goes on to note this ‘represents less than .08 percent of the 164.2 million-plus people fully vaccinated since January’ but they know what they are doing and it’s awful.”
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