As Disney and local government officials publicly pressure California Gov. Gavin Newsom to allow the state’s theme parks to reopen, websites that cover Disney parks are doing their own lobbying — in the form of news coverage.
Disneyland has been closed for more than six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The shutdown is not Disney-specific, though Knott’s Berry Farm, SeaWorld San Diego and Legoland California have partially reopened for limited-entry events without rides or attractions.
Newsom has yet to issue reopening guidelines for theme parks, leading to uncharacteristically public criticism from Disney. In a meeting with the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, Disneyland president Ken Potrock said the resort was “in limbo” until guidelines are released, declaring “We are ready to open responsibly, it is the time to open responsibly and it’s important to open responsibly.”
Blog Mickey, a Disney-centric news site with more than 36,000 Twitter followers, covered Potrock’s comments and then advocated for Disney’s position in a Sept. 24 article. “There should be little doubt at this point that Disney will act responsibly and safely if given the chance to open by Newsom,” opined Blog Mickey’s owner, who is identified on the site only as “Mike.” He did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Blog Mickey had previously reported that Disneyland was targeting a Sept. 28 reopening date, which turned out to be inaccurate.
More pro-Disney editorializing could be found at Chip and Company. The site’s Sept. 24 article on Potrock’s comments stated, “Disney fans and officials alike are getting impatient for Disneyland to reopen. Hopefully the governor will allow that to happen soon!”
While it may not seem unusual or unethical for sites that cover Disney to write favorably of the company, separating news from opinion is a core tenet of journalism. Recent research has shown readers often find it difficult to distinguish between the two in news media.
Inside the Magic writer Alessa Dufresne treated Disney’s safety credentials as proven fact, “When is comes to safety during the pandemic, Disney Parks have put safety over economy each time, and the precautions being taken from the parks that are currently open (such as Walt Disney World) are great, allowing for no COVID-19 outbreaks to stem from their parks.”
While it’s true that state officials have not attributed any COVID-19 outbreaks to theme parks which have been allowed to reopen, none of the aforementioned stories included data about the state of the pandemic in California. COVID-19-related emergency room visits and rate of cases per 100,000 residents are trending upward again, even though test positivity rates have declined, leading the state to forecast that hospitalizations may increase by 89 percent by Oct. 25.
Mainstream news coverage on the topic has included COVID-19 data and also sought the perspective of public health experts. For example, a Sept. 18 story on the Disneyland reopening debate from the Los Angeles Times included comments from Andrew Noymer, an associate professor of public health at UC Irvine.
“It’s tricky at best to open up something like a Disneyland or a Knott’s Berry Farm now,” he said. “I personally would not go to a theme park.”
And in the world of theme park news, not every site is advocating for Disney’s position. Theme Park Insider’s Robert Niles wrote on Sept. 22: “Disney has every right to make its case. And state officials have every right – and even a responsibility – to make their decision based on the criteria they see as important, no matter what Disney says. After all, theme park managers aren’t exactly at the top of the list of people to whom state officials ought to be listening when deciding how to respond to this public health emergency.”
When Disneyland and other California theme parks are allowed to reopen, they will almost certainly operate much like their counterparts in Central Florida to limit the spread of COVID-19, with many changes from their pre-pandemic states. Disneyland has already begun preparing, adding physical distancing markers outside its gates and plexiglass barriers at its entrance, along with signs that state that face masks are required.
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