‘NBC Nightly News’ declares U.S. has hit 1 million COVID death mark

NBC Nightly News” marked passing the threshold of 1 million U.S. deaths from COVID-19 Wednesday, May 4, 2022 — but flipping channels quickly that evening made it clear neither CBS or ABC were reporting that figure.

It might seem a bit odd that the three networks didn’t hit the 1 million mark on the same day, but each network can rely on its own methodology and sourcing to create a combined estimated total.

There are also a variety of data release schedules, anomalies and other factors that can affect why some organizations report different data — such as New York City borough not reporting “probable” COVID-19 deaths in its count, which could have a significant effect on the data because it’s been the epicenter of several serious outbreaks.

NBC News has been investing heavily in data journalism, especially on NBCNews.com, and it appears it’s kept a close eye on numbers and culling data from multiple sources and presumably supplementing official data with other sources and de-duplicating as needed.

It also has created its own COVID-19 dashboard.

Neither the CDC nor Johns Hopkins University’s count had not hit 1 million as of May 4 either instead hovering just under that in the high 900,000s. 

Most networks and agencies agree, however, that the 1 million mark will be crossed by most counting methodologies soon.

All that said, at the top of May 4’s newscasts, anchor Lester Holt stood in front of the large 40-foot video wall in Studio 1A that blared the headline “1 million American COVID deaths” before promising to return to the story after some other news, which happened to include coverage of the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade opinion leak that included two packages.


Holt then returned to the story from the small anchor desk set up on the other side of the studio, with the same headline on the smaller video wall behind him.

At the end of the broadcast, Holt also offered a video essay-type kicker, which he introduced from standing in front of the curved video wall with a scaled back and slightly understated text headline reading “1 million lives lost.”

It did not feature the normal angular elements on either side of the imagery as “Nightly” kickers often do.

It’s not immediately clear when ABC and CBS’s counts will catch up to NBC, though both of their sites have posted several articles referring to that threshold coming “soon.”

Overall, it might be questionable as to why NBC opted to declare 1 million deaths ahead of any government agency or other network — and perhaps could have been an attempt to simply get a jump on the competition. However, the decision to call could be correlated to how networks call election results differently at different times, which is often based on a mix of public and internal metrics, data and methodologies. 

Most health experts believe that the number of COVID-19 deaths reported are likely less than they actually are, though vocal mostly right wing pundits have take to the airwaves with false claims that hospitals had been over-counting deaths to make the pandemic look more serious than it is.

There has been no evidence of widespread use of such tactics, though it’s also inevitable that a tiny portion of the approximately 1 million deaths attributed to COVID-19 over the past two-plus years were misattributed to it — but any of those errors are likely so statistically small and outweighed by deaths that have been missed for whatever reason. 

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