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Cable news embraces a narrative of hope as vaccine arrives at hospitals | COMMENTARY

Jon Horton, Sentara director of pharmacy operations, unpacks boxes of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccination Monday, December 14, 2020, morning in Norfolk.
Jon Horton, Sentara director of pharmacy operations, unpacks boxes of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccination Monday, December 14, 2020, morning in Norfolk. (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot)

Cable news is often accused of selling a steady diet of death, destruction, controversy, conflict and skepticism. But Monday morning, it was embracing a narrative of hope with a fervor I have not seen with any other story in the last 10 months. And it made me hopeful to see it even on a gloomy, wet and cold Monday morning as the death toll from the pandemic approached 300,000 Americans.

MSNBC, CNN and other channels were in full wall-to-wall coverage mode as UPS and FedEx trucks arrived at medical centers and hospitals across the country Monday morning carrying the COVID-19 vaccine just approved by federal regulators over the weekend. And while the pictures themselves were nothing special, often just a live shot of a hospital loading dock with a UPS or FedEx truck parked in one of the bays, the consistent narrative from the anchor desks imbued the images with an urgency, energy and sense of history and optimism that was hard to resist.

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The message: After 10 months of darkness, finally, hope was here in the fight against COVID-19. And cable TV was splitting screens and jumping from one medical center and expert to another in breakneck, rolling coverage.

At about 9:20 a.m., MSNBC’s Gabe Gutierrez was reporting from outside the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University where the governor and other officials were assembled inside to witness the first injections of the vaccine. But just as he finished saying, “This is a historic moment,” anchor Stephanie Ruhle cut in to tell him and the audience that coverage was shifting to New York where the first injection was about to be given to a health care worker in the state. Another moment of history ― this one with live images of the actual injection of a front line critical care nurse.

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Ms. Ruhle came back to Mr. Gutierrez after the New York moment.

“Stephanie, hospital workers here are saying this could be the beginning of the end of this pandemic,” he reported.

“An incredible logistical challenge, but help and hope is on the way,” Ms. Ruhle added as Mr. Gutierrez ended his report and she pivoted to an interview with Dr. Lisa Cooper, the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Equity in Health and Healthcare at Johns Hopkins and director of its Center for Health Equity in Baltimore.

“I’m so excited,” Dr. Cooper said when asked for her reaction to what she was seeing on the screen this morning. “I’m thrilled to see this moment arrive. This is such a critical time in the history of our country. There are so many lives at stake. This vaccine has incredible potential to save lives and improve our quality of life and actually get us back to working and get kids back into schools. So, I’m thrilled.”

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David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: david.zurawik@baltsun.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik.

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