The Social Construction of COVID-19 Through Historical Comparisons to SARS and Other Epidemics in News Media Coverage
Fesmire, William Thomas
Because of news media’s role in information dissemination and communication, researchers believe that news media plays a significant role in social construction, the process by which meaning and value are attributed to objects, concepts, or knowledge in a social setting through continuous interaction. This thesis examines articles published in the online versions of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and USA Today during the first six months of 2020 to determine how news media participated in the social construction of COVID- 19. While social construction discourse analyses normally examine articles for specific language cues or metaphors, this thesis analyzes news media’s use of past events, facts, and statistics to create a specific history of epidemics, to which writers compared COVID-19. Through mixed- methods discourse analysis, this study found that news media made comparisons to specific characteristics of past epidemics as a means of framing COVID-19 around current sociopolitical values and controversies. Through this gathering of the past, news media constructed a partial history of epidemics that perpetuated various social constructions at the onset of the epidemic. This thesis also examines historical comparisons between SARS and COVID-19 to reveal news media’s continuation of Asian pathologization in its attempts to frame COVID-19 around current anti-China rhetoric. These findings suggest 1. that news media uses matters of fact not only to provide context but also to satisfy its own matters of concern, and 2. that historical comparison provides another avenue of social construction discourse analysis.