Trust in the CDC: Framing Theory, Message Mutation, and the COVID-19 Vaccine
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as other public health agencies, emphasizes the news media as a key channel in the development and dissemination of crisis and risk communication to the American public. This relationship to the news media, while historically established, is in a period of significant transformation; Changes in social media and engagement driven journalism models are increasing fragmentation and social mediation, exacerbating trends in polarization, and driving an erosion of public trust in both the news itself as well as public health institutions. Through a qualitative content analysis of messaging about the COVID-19 vaccine, this thesis uses framing theory as a key concept for understanding how common messages mutate between the CDC and the news media (CNN and Fox News), and the degree to which polarization may influence how publications frame public health communication. Findings suggest that while news media, regardless of polarization, distributes key messages from the CDC, additional context in news coverage likely contributes supplemental framing to negate or support key messages and serve their readership bias. Future work building on framing and health communication could help public health communicators consider more effective strategies that anticipate the ways in which message mutation by the news media affect downstream public behaviors and attitudes.