NPR Reports Non-Existent Amish COVID “Surge”?

Another head-scratching headline following last week’s example.

On Friday NPR published a report titled “Convincing Amish Communities To Get Vaccinated As Their COVID-19 Cases Surge“.

The bold was added by me to draw your attention to that scary word. This was an “All Things Considered” audio report which became the article linked here.

This headline got my attention because it seems all the news I’ve been hearing is cases are generally going in the opposite direction. And I haven’t seen anything lately on Amish cases specifically “surging” or even increasing.

But maybe this report has some new information for us? Here’s a screenshot of the article on the NPR main site:

Reading the article though, that’s not the case.

Now, they could at some future time “surge”, or even be increasing right now on the way to an eventual “surge”, but that’s not what the title suggests. And there’s no evidence provided in the article that Amish COVID cases are right now increasing.

People might believe they are, but what NPR reports falls well short of what their headline claims. Let’s take a look.

Note: the original audio report does not include this headline (at least in the recording they provide). My issue is with how the online article has been put together – and whoever added the title (and more…see below).

“Surge” in the text

I’ve bolded all the instances – 5 of them – where the word “surge” appears beyond the headline:

Subheading: Those with ties to the Amish are figuring out the best ways to educate and encourage them to get the shot, as COVID-19 cases surge in their communities.

Right from the start, what we read in the title is stated again by the subhead. If there was any question about the headline, this only reinforces the idea that cases are going up right now.

It’s not “anticipated surge” or “worries over a possible surge” or etc. It’s “as COVID-19 cases surge in their communities.” Uh-oh.

Opening paragraph: Health officials in rural America are struggling to vaccinate one of the most isolated groups of all, the Amish. And they are worried that another COVID-19 surge could be on the way. 

Hmm, now we see the surge actually just “could” be coming. People are worried about it. Okay, not exactly the same thing as the headline and subhead though. Let’s read further.

Later in the story: HUNTSMAN: Holmes Health Director Derr is concerned about another surge now that more contagious variants of the virus are spreading across the country. He worries those who previously contracted the virus may not be protected.

DERR: We had to open up extra wings in our hospital to kind of cover that. And as a region, we definitely surged over the winter. And we know that that happened about 90 days ago. We’re primed and ready for another surge because we’re not vaccinating enough.

So a person in the know, Health Director Michael Derr, is actually not saying a surge is ongoing – but that it happened (past tense) 3 months ago, and it could happen again.

“Could happen” is different from what NPR’s title and subheading report.

Read the rest of the 3-minute transcript. I’m not seeing any evidence or links to sources supporting the idea that cases are right now surging in Holmes County, or other Amish communities.

Maybe it’s out there. But this report by NPR doesn’t provide it. So did they just “report” a non-existent Amish COVID surge?

Add it to the list

I’ve spent the past year observing and writing about media coverage of the Amish & COVID-19 – here on this blog, and later in an article for the latest JPAC.

If I was writing that article today, I’d probably include this report. It would go in the section on what we could call questionable news stories.

It would fit alongside other examples such as the Iowa station that tried to “gotcha” the Amish over supposedly violating a governor’s order on schools. Or the Ohio station which used some irrelevant or at best questionable photos to enhance a story on Amish possibly violating a stay-at-home order.

What I see in this NPR article is a vaccine promotion headline that doesn’t match what’s in the story. No one is truly “neutral”, but NPR at least has the airs of a more straight news outlet. I’d expect to find that mismatch on an activist blog or at a more sensational news business.

Whoever wrote that headline might need to consider Remedial Headline Writing 101. Or, it was intentional. I don’t see an option “C” here. Do you?

Nowadays, the headline is the report

As the amount of info has exploded and we have to filter more and more news, the big-letter text at the top of the page matters more than ever.

Nowadays, people read headlines and they maybe skim the article. That’s what creates the impression of what’s going on.

I get that an attention-getting headline is important. I create headlines myself, daily. But you have to stay on the right side of the line.

I also get that people are worried about whether the Amish are getting the COVID vaccine. It’s been a big topic over the past couple of months. I’ve spoken to at least four reporters about it in that time. And there has been a lot more coverage of it than that.

Whether you agree with them or not, Amish have the freedom as individuals to choose to take a vaccine, or to abstain.

For those that want to convince Amish to vaccinate – I don’t believe media “reports” intended to generate public pressure on them is the best way to reach them on this issue.

Just because you believe Amish should vaccinate – or whatever other cause in the world you might believe in – doesn’t mean you get to check out on doing your job properly, newspeople.

I’d hope NPR would stick to reporting what’s actually happening, especially in the part of the article that matters the most (the headline).

I’m not operating under any delusion, however. Headline-content mismatch is nothing new. I do think we’re seeing it more often now in places where previously we might not have.

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    17 Comments

    1. Alice Berger

      NPR is NOT unbiased

      You might want to research NPR a bit more closely. They are not an unbiased news source.

      1. No one said it was

        I never said they are unbiased. I first heard NPR in the mid-1980s. I know it pretty well. As I wrote in the post, no one is really “neutral”.

        NPR, however, still has an air of being both authoritative and at least ostensibly a neutral news source. It enjoys this impression in part due to its name, with both “National” and “Public” in its title, and the belief that it is publicly-funded. It does get some public funding, though I understand significantly less than once was the case.

    2. Pamela Campbell

      Amish Covid Vaccines

      I worry, due a possible lack of information on possible long term vaccine side effects, that the Amish will take the shots.
      Some possible side effects are miscarriages, blood, brain and lung problems, possible sterilization and worse …

      1. Franci

        Amish Covid Vaccines

        Pamela Campbell, I agree! The Amish are being pressured to get the vaccines by healthcare workers who visit homes in their community. My response has been to share this article with them. They can read it, be informed, and make up their own minds about what is true (and safe) and what isn’t.

        18 Reasons I Won’t Be Getting a Covid Vaccine
        https://www.citizensjournal.us/18-reasons-i-wont-be-getting-a-covid-vaccine/

        The article starts out with a note from the editor, saying “We are not opposed to vaccines. They have done much good. But there are risks and this article describes them masterfully, especially in regards to those for COVID.”

        1. Alice Berger

          18 reasons

          I shared that website of 18 reasons with a friend who is considering getting the vaccination. It’s a very good one.

    3. Joe Donnermeyer

      NPR story

      Erik’s article in the Journal of Plain Anabaptist Communities shows all of the ways that media can be incorrect, imprecise, selective and outright biased on their news coverage of the Amish generally, and Covid-19 in particular. NPR is more neutral than nearly all of the other news sources, especially the highly biased nature of Fox News and the news outlets to the political right of Fox News. Nonetheless, NPR is hardly perfect in its reporting.

    4. Thomasanna C Hail

      Covid Surge? Maybe

      I’m not going to be directly pro or con the NPR reporting this moment because i would need to read it carefully and vet the info. I will say though from my personal information that the Covid virus was absolutely a big problem in our local Amish/Plain communities say some six months ago. We attend a local Amish meeting house and although we aren’t official members, we obviously are close with the families in the community. After one family attended a mud sale up north in OH or KY (I forget but could find out again if that’s critical for some reason), they brought it back and whole families of 10-15 became ill, critically in some of the elderly. Of those, only when some two or three people became so sick that they were taken to the emergency room did any official reporting occur. The rest just suffered through it at home, and some of them are still not recovered (long Covid). None of those cases were ever officially reported, however, because they don’t typically go for a doctor or the hospital, and it’s not like doctors and nurses go out looking for sickness in the community. It seemed like the whole family would get quite sick, from grandmother to babies – not just those with underlying conditions.

      The idea that this could all happen again in these somewhat closed communities (they don’t advertise their problems – and problems absolutely exist, just as in any other societal group) is entirely plausible and upsetting. It doesn’t have to happen if even just basic precautions could get a grip in their mindsets. Don’t get me started about how many little kids each year in our community end up in the ER and/or with permanent lung damage from whooping cough (pertussis). Scarlet fever also has its seasons. Most of the time they don’t ever go to the doctor – only when it’s just so bad that the parents can’t stand the suffering anymore. Same for burns as well.

      All of this to say that there may not be a whole lot of hard statistics for the Amish communities because of immense underreporting – and it’s that underreporting that I can personally attest to. I also can personally attest to the resistance to general medical care and vaccines (see pertussis again), and so with an anti vaccine kindest plus in many cases a strangely misplaced resistance to mask wearing and social distancing – well, that’s how disease spreads, regardless of your religious views. I realize that headlines can often be “attention grabbing” at the expense of the truth – however in this case, I wouldn’t dismiss the article out of hand because of an apparent lack of evidence. As they say, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.

      1. Thomasanna C Hail

        Kindest should be mindset; sorry about the typo.

      2. I agree with a lot of what you wrote, and the fact that cases may be increasing may very well be true. I have been hearing about underreporting COVID among Amish for a long time now. I don’t wish for more COVID cases for anyone, but I’m totally open to reading, and sharing, that story.

        But NPR’s reporting fails to match the evidence to their attention-getting headline. That is the main point I’m making.

        I think the reporting came first here. If you listen to the audio, it is about the concern of a surge. And then I believe whoever is in charge of headlines for the transcribed online version attached a bad headline to it. For whatever reason.

        In regards to more clearly partisan outlets on the right or on the left, I feel something like NPR should at least do a better job of getting very basic things accurate, like the headline. The fact that it repeated in the subhead suggests it’s not a sloppy “whoops” error.

        It’s more about having a basic level of faith that what I read in a headline will be reflected in the body of the story. I feel “National Public” Radio at the least should be held to a higher standard – than say a tabloid.

        More cynically speaking I’d also like to think there is still some media that’s not playing the “ends justifies the means” game. Even if there exists public health concern, straight reporting should still try to be honest. Opinion pieces are of course another matter. But they need to be clearly identified as such.

    5. Deborah

      My Opinion as a Nurse

      I work as an RN in an Amish area and I can say in my observation that the Amish are not admitted to the hospital in high numbers. In fact, there were some admitted three months ago but I didn’t see a surge. There were more Hispanics than Amish if one looks at minority subgroups.
      It is a fact that diabetics and obese people are admitted with C19 more than any other groups. It is also misleading to point out that there was a surge 90 days ago. There is always a surge of influenza B in January, but not this year. We had next to zero influenza this past winter so that gives a person something to think about.
      I notice the Amish and Mennonite people in my area don’t wear masks and hardly ever did. The mayor of our town had enough sense not to mandate masks. I did have an Amish guy get on me once in the grocery store for being a nurse and not wearing a mask. He told me it was the respectful thing to do. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was wearing his mask wrong. I did say I understood his point. After all, the store could be closed down for not having people wear masks in a pandemic. The store’s customers were mostly Amish and I guess he wanted to keep the store open. Him and his wife rode away on their bike.

    6. J.O.B.

      The inaccurate headline by NPR was designed for ratings/money and to manipulate people to pressure the Amish to get the vaccine. Very disturbing.

      According to the CDC, 80% of people hospitalized with Covid are overweight. Telling people that their best defense against Covid is to lose weight and be active/eat healthy is what real news should be saying. Not mislead people with bad headlines.

    7. Terry

      VAXXED!

      We trust in our GOD. He gave us great immune systems.

    8. The same article with a more accurate title

      This same story was just published at the Ideastream site. Ideastream owns one of the Ohio NPR affiliates. It has the more accurate headline “Ohio Amish Shun COVID-19 Vaccines As Officials Fear A Surge In Cases”.

      A headline more like that should have been on the original story at npr.org and elsewhere.

      https://www.ideastream.org/news/ohio-amish-shun-covid-19-vaccines-as-officials-fear-a-surge-in-cases

    9. Denise

      NPR

      Erik,
      Thanks for calling out the NPR. Also, I think Kayla has a pretty good perspective on how the Amish accept what they interpret as God’s will. One lesson I think the world has learned during this pandemic is if we thought we had any control of this life we were sadly mistaken. I also think it is ironic that the Amish sewed thousands of cloth masks although they may have been the last to want to wear them.

    10. Deborah

      Thank you!

      I am so very grateful that you addressed the NPR article. I discovered your website last year after one of my many visits to Amish territory. As a spiritual person who believes in freedom, self-sovereignty and holistic medicine, I knew that I would be in good company. It has been a rough road to stand alone amongst my friends and family who only believe in one side of things. My thanks to you.

    11. Alain

      Why don’t you understand the difference between “surge” as a verb and “surge” as a noun?

      1. “Surge” is used here as both a verb and a noun. I’m afraid I’m not seeing your point.