Trump’s Pandemic: A Content Analysis of Attribute Agendas in U.S. News Media Coverage of the COVID-19 Outbreak Through November 2020

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Antonacci, Christian Victor
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Middle Tennessee State University
2020 is a year that will forever be remembered for two highly significant events; the 2020 United States presidential election and the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic. These issues became highly politicized by the news media, and the presence of second level agenda setting effects became evident in mainstream coverage, specifically in building an association between President Donald J. Trump and the COVID-19 pandemic. This study explores how agenda setting played a role in the medias’ coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly with regard to the following issue attributes: “Vaccine,” “Mask,” “Economy,” “School/Student,” “Biden,” “Lockdown/Quarantine,” “Deaths/Dead,” “China/Chinese,” “Pandemic,” and “Trump.” Articles with headlines mentioning the terms, “Trump” and “COVID-19,” or “coronavirus,” were aggregated using the GDELT Project, also known as the Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone. These articles were then analyzed in hopes of finding patterns in the overall coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as such patterns relate to the aforementioned attributes and the frequencies at which they appeared in the acquired dataset. This study addresses how such patterns and frequencies are informed by second level agenda setting, particularly as it relates to the use of global events as a political tool to either exalt or disparage a political figure.
Agenda setting, Attribute, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Second level, Trump, Mass communication