As the coronavirus pandemic gripped the country over the last several weeks, television viewers — especially those supportive of President Donald Trump —- had one place they could go to for some sense of solace: Fox News.
“If you are over the mass hysteria, if you’re over politicizing and weaponizing of the coronavirus, you are not alone,” Sean Hannity, the highest-rated host on Fox News, assured the network’s prime time audience this week.
Indeed, over the past several weeks, top hosts and personalities on the conservative cable news network downplayed concerns about the virus, baselessly accusing credible news organizations of overhyping the crisis to hurt Trump politically.
At other times, Fox News hosts and personalities pointed to the death toll of the seasonal flu, misleading the network’s audience into thinking that the coronavirus was receiving more attention because it is novel, while the flu in fact kills more Americans and was, thus, more dangerous and cause for alarm.
That’s not to say that some of the coverage on Fox News was not straightforward. The network has had a number of reporters in the field assigned to cover the coronavirus, and shows have hosted various doctors who have provided sound medical advice. Harris Faulkner, for example, hosted a special with four doctors on her program earlier this week. Additionally, some personalities have taken the situation seriously from the start.
But a significant part of Fox News’ coverage had been aimed toward framing the response to coronavirus as unwarranted hysteria. The often-dismissive messaging from Fox News hosts was particularly notable, given that, like other cable news channels, the viewers who make up the network’s audience skew older and are, thus, the most vulnerable to the disease. The remarks from the hosts also raise concern given how much influence figures like Hannity wield over Trump, especially since Trump recycled some of those very talking points on Twitter and when speaking with the press to initially dismiss the public health crisis.
By Thursday, after Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office and the seriousness of the crisis settled in with millions of Americans, it was clear some Fox News hosts and personalities started taking the matter far more seriously. But still, others have continued to pollute the airwaves with misleading information.
Hannity on Wednesday night, after Trump’s speech, acknowledged on his program that the coronavirus poses “a lot of serious risks and a lot of serious challenges.” He noted that “in serious situations, truth matters, facts matter.” But in the very same episode that he made those comments, the Fox News host continued to mislead his audience.
Hannity contrasted the novel coronavirus fatality numbers with those of the seasonal flu, despite knowing that the novel virus’ mortality rate is significantly higher. Hannity knew it was a misleading comparison because the night before on his program Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told him that the coronavirus is at least 10-times more lethal than influenza.
A top messaging tactic Fox News hosts employed in recent weeks to alleviate fear over the coronavirus was to tell viewers that credible news organizations have over-torqued their coverage in a bid to harm Trump politically.
The main thrust of the conspiracy theory was that journalists are intentionally trying to create panic in the markets with frenzied coverage to sink the economy and hurt Trump’s chances of re-election.
“This is yet another attempt to impeach the President,” declared Fox Business host Trish Regan Monday night next to an on-air graphic on the screen that read “CORONAVIRUS IMPEACHMENT SCAM.”
“The hate is boiling over,” Regan added. “Many in the liberal media using — and I mean using — coronavirus in an attempt to demonize and destroy the President.”
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