By Zachary Stieber
The New York Times on May 19 falsely reported that thousands of children have died during the pandemic from multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a rare syndrome that develops in some youth following COVID-19.
In a story reported by Apoorva Mandavilli, the paper stated that “nearly 4,000 children aged 5 to 11 have died from” MIS-C.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just 68 children in total have died from MIS-C during the pandemic.
The false statistic quickly drew criticism.
“In this breaking news article, pushed by NY Times, award-winning science journalist (whose work is apparently not fact checked) claims that there have been 4000 deaths in kids 5-11 from MIS-C. CDC only lists 6,” one Twitter user wrote. “What is going on here?”
“I just wanted to flag this (and couldn’t DM you) so tweeting instead,” David Zweig, a freelance writer, added, tagging Mandavilli.
The story was later updated to say that nearly 4,000 children between the ages of 5 to 11 “have been diagnosed with” MIS-C, with no mention of the number of deaths.
The update was a so-called stealth edit, or an update without notification to readers. No correction or editor’s note explained the change.
Mandavilli acknowledged what happened, telling critics that the false reporting “has been fixed.”
“Diagnosed with, not died. It was fixed,” she wrote on Twitter.
A New York Times spokesperson and Mandavilli didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mandavilli has gotten a similar statistic wrong before.
In an article in October 2021, she falsely wrote that “nearly 900,000 children have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and about 520 have died.”
The actual number of hospitalizations among children up to that point was approximately 63,000. In that case, a correction was added to the piece, which stated that the article “misstated the number of Covid hospitalizations in U.S. children.”
“It is more than 63,000 from August 2020 to October 2021, not 900,000 since the beginning of the pandemic,” the correction stated.
Mandavilli has drawn attention during the pandemic for claiming that there were “racist roots” to the theory that SARS-CoV-2 originated from a laboratory in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the first cases of COVID-19 were reported. SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19.
Mandavilli later deleted the post, but wrote in another that “a theory can have racist roots and still gather reasonable supporters along the way,” adding that it “doesn’t make the roots any less racist or the theory any more convincing, though.”