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In this Aug. 7, 2019, file photo Fox News host Sean Hannity speaks during a taping of his show, "Hannity," in New York. Skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccination is a common theme in media appealing to conservatives, despite assurances from doctors and scientists that the vaccine is safe and effective. On Fox News Channel on Monday, July 19, host Sean Hannity looked straight into the camera to deliver a clear message: "It absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated. I believe in science. I believe in the science of vaccinations." Yet Hannity followed up his statement by interviewing a woman protesting her college's requirement that students be vaccinated, a segment appealing to people skeptical of the immunization push.(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

The inventory of fairly useless labels in modern journalism is both robust and accessible, labels such as "deep dive," which, translated literally, means "look out, we might actually spend more than a minute or two on this story."

Journalists designate a "deep dive" at their peril of course, because many consumers of news still prefer the shallow end of the info pool, while the rest simply don't have time. Deep dive? OK but wait, someone just texted me this dog video.

It just so happens the real, tangible, measurable deep dive is in cable news ratings, which began to crash soon after the November elections and haven't really stopped.

One industry tracker gauged Fox News viewership down 42% for the second quarter of 2021, MSNBC's down 36%, and CNN's down 57%. Within the omnipotent 25-54 demographic, Fox was off 50%, MSNBC 48%, and CNN a staggering 68%.

The problem is that the decline in ratings is generating a proportional spike in scaremongering.

After the coronavirus vaccine began rolling out in earnest in January and COVID-19 cases began their own deep dive, Americans stopped obsessing on medical updates and started looking for things to do. By the end of May, with crowds back in ballparks and restaurants, people were disinclined to curl up with cable's bottomless supply of stern-faced virologists. Simultaneously, Donald Trump left both the White House and the majority of American consciousness, having been banned from multiple social media platforms.

By summer, cable news looked up to discover it was just about fresh out of bread and butter, aka Trump and disease. The replacements weren't cutting it. Cuba, fully worth a deep dive, isn't moving the needle. Space-racing billionaires, more assuredly not worth a deep dive, aren't either. Seems there was but one option.

"GROWING ALARM," screamed the chyrons across the bottom of cable screens this week.

CNN's round-the-clock rhythm on virus coverage has become steady as a metronome. It often starts with a credible medical source stating the hard truth that vaccinated persons do not have much to worry about, then veers off in 10 directions for another 24 hours of "yeah but this, yeah but that, and yeah but what about this?"

But even the experts are running out of patience with this cycle. Dr. Jonathan Reiner of George Washington University, re-emphasized the obvious vaccination solution again Monday by pointing out that more than 99% of the deaths are among the unvaccinated, but could barely contain himself on the unvaccinated themselves.

"They don't want to mask up and they don't want to close down," he said in response to a question about a crowd at a conservative political conference appearing to cheer for vaccine resisters. "They don't want to stay home, and they don't want to vaccinate. Look, we need to grow up in this country. We have a solution for this, and the solution is vaccinations."

Over on Fox, where the owner was vaccinated before the president of the United States, they tried terrifying people with Critical Race Theory for a few months.

But Fox knows full well, as does CNN and MSNBC, that they won't fully recover their winter audience unless Trump is welcomed back to the airwaves as though he were something other than a raging psychotic insurrection-staging anarchist.

But then someone lets him talk.

And from a media standpoint, that's quite the executive decision.

Even Fox, home of the Big Lie, had to mount an on-screen disclaimer during Trump's 90-minute speech at the aforementioned political conference, as the former president screeched on about the "stolen" election, the one he tried to steal on Jan. 6.

Fox did it in all caps: THE VOTING SYSTEM COMPANIES HAVE DENIED THE VARIOUS ALLEGATIONS MADE BY PRESIDENT TRUMP AND HIS COUNSEL REGARDING THE 2020 ELECTION.

Let me fix that for you: PAY NO ATTENTION TO THIS MAN.

And get a vaccine.

The Pittsburgh Post Publishing Co.

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