Reliable Sources Keep Us Informed — and Guard against Misinformation

Learn more about William McKenzie.
William McKenzie
Senior Editorial Advisor
George W. Bush Institute

Senior Editorial Advisor William McKenzie shares his top picks for the most reliable sources for COVID-19 news.

How do you find coronavirus information that you can take to the bank? Here’s a tip sheet:

Go to the Medical Professionals: Click on the website of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). See what the CDC data says about the disease. For example, CDC’s maps break out COVID-19 infection rates by state. These are the people whose training allows them to discern what is happening with the spread of the coronavirus.

For that same reason, zero in on what Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx say about the virus. [Acknowledgement: Dr. Birx leads the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a close partner of the Bush Institute on Go Further.] As infectious disease experts, this is not the first crisis for these White House Coronavirus Task Force members. They have had experience dealing with the spread of diseases from HIV/AIDS to Ebola to malaria.

And check out what your state, county, and city officials are saying about your community.

Don’t stop there, though.

Follow the Journalism Experts: Health and science reporters at online outlets like Kaiser Health News and ProPublica are focused extensively on COVID-19. They also employ journalists who write about medical and scientific issues, day in and day out. Experts like Charles Ornstein at ProPublica are trained in reporting about complex health issues. And they have solid sources, which is key to getting reliable information.

The same is true for science reporters like Dr. Seema Yasmin, a “disease detective” who is trained as a scientist and a journalist. Now an expert at Stanford’s Health Communication Initiative, she is a CNN analyst who has won an Emmy for reporting on diseases. She previously had a joint appointment at the Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Dallas, where her reporting on and analysis of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Dallas gained national attention.

Yes, the MSM: You may love or hate the mainstream news media, but journalists who are trained in collecting and vetting information, hearing both sides of a story, asking the what-if questions, digging deeply into a subject, and developing expert sources are crucial in a time like this. If you don’t think so, imagine what it would be like only getting information about the spread of this virus from a state-controlled news source. I doubt the Chinese suffering from COVID-19 thought that was a swell idea.

The mainstream news media just doesn’t mean tested national news-gathering operations at places like the Wall Street Journal or New York Times. It also means local newspapers and telecasts. Some local news outlets might be facing financial tailspins, but they are indispensable in learning about how COVID-19 is affecting your community and what your state and local officials are saying and asking.

Keep digging, though. Read multiple sources. And search for the facts, which sites like the Poynter Institute’s Politifact do regularly.

Note that social media sources are not listed here. As Ronald Reagan once said about the Soviets: trust, but verify. Closely check the information you are getting on a feed or through an email chain. It may or not be accurate.