Abstract

Context: Previous research has established the importance of primary care physicians in communicating public health directives. The implicit assumption is that, because of their expertise, doctors provide accurate and up-to-date information to their patients, independent of partisan affiliation or media trust.

Methods: Using an online survey of 625 primary care physicians, this paper tests (1) whether physicians trust media outlets consistent with their partisanship and (2) whether trust in media outlets influences (a) personal concern someone in their family will get sick; (b) perceptions about the seriousness of the pandemic as portrayed in the media; and (c) trust in federal government agencies and scientists.

Findings: While physicians are better positioned to critically evaluate health-related news, they are subject to the same biases that influence public opinion. Physicians’ partisan commitments influence media trust and media trust influences concern a family member will get sick, perceptions regarding the seriousness of the pandemic, and trust in federal government agencies and scientists.

Conclusions: Physician trust in specific media outlets shapes their understanding of the pandemic and— to the extent that they trust conservative media outlets—may limit their effectiveness as health policy messengers.

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