All ‘big three’ networks mark 1 million COVID-19 deaths — even though one already did

Despite NBC News marking the milestone more than a week previously, all three networks noted the U.S. hitting the tragic milestone of 1 million deaths from COVID-19 May 12, 2022.

ABC World News Tonight” lead the story that evening, with anchor David Muir featured in an extended package focusing on children who lost their only parents or primary caregivers to the disease.

CBS Evening News,” meanwhile, lead with the baby formula shortage and then an update on the January 6 insurrection investigation before switching to the 1 million death milestone.

“Evening” also featured a graph shown in a video wall using the walk and wander video on video floating camera style. The graph clearly showed the increase in death counts, though rather small labels made it a bit difficult to drive home the magnitude of the threshold. 

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“Nightly” also included the milestone despite having reported hitting the 1 million figure, according to its own proprietary counting method, May 4, 2022. 

The story, however, came after coverage of the formula shortage and California wildfires, and only received a voiceover from anchor Lester Holt, as opposed to a full package.

NBC has made it clear that it has been keeping its own tally of COVID-19 deaths that’s separate from more widely used sources such as CDC figures or Johns Hopkins University’s dashboard. 

“Nightly” phrased May 12 as the date the U.S. “marks” 1 million COVID deaths, noting, like ABC and CBS, that President Joe Biden ordered flags at federal buildings to fly at half staff to honor those lost. This, at least in a way, could be viewed as the “official” marking of the grim milestone — at least from the federal government’s standpoint. 

Each of the various counting methods rely on a variety of data sources, which can sometimes vary in timing, accuracy or specificity depending on the state or county, so this is likely at least one reason for the apparent discrepancy.

Many health experts also say that it’s likely that the numbers are at least somewhat under counting deaths linked to the coronavirus pandemic, despite earlier debunked claims that some officials were attributing more deaths to COVID-19 than actually occurred.

NBC’s move could have been deemed premature and a ratings ploy, but in some ways it’s similar to when CNN opted to start labeling the coronavirus epidemic as a “pandemic” before the it had been officially declared one by WHO back in the spring of 2020.

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