Data available: Fox News may have prevented millions from taking the coronavirus threat seriously


Studies “paint a picture of a media ecosystem that amplifies misinformation, fosters conspiracy theories and discourages the public from taking concrete action to protect themselves and others,” wrote my colleague Christopher Ingraham in a weekly analysis last.

Here is the reality, now supported by figures:

Those who relied on traditional sources – the network’s evening newspapers or the national newspapers that President Trump constantly disseminates as “fake news” – obtained an accurate assessment of the risks of the pandemic. News consumers were the most likely to react accordingly, protecting themselves and others from the disease that killed more than 123,000 people in the United States without end in sight.

Those who relied on Fox or, say, radio personality Rush Limbaugh, ended up believing that vitamin C was a possible cure, that the Chinese government had created the virus in a laboratory, and that government health agencies were exaggerating it. dangers hoping to damage Trump politically, according to an investigation.

“This is the real evil of this type of programming,” Washington League Times Arthur West Arthur for increased transparency and ethics told the Times of San Diego, who sued Fox News in April for coverage of coronaviruses. “We believe it has delayed and interfered with a rapid and adequate response to this coronavirus pandemic. (A lawyer for Fox News called the lawsuit “false on the facts, frivolous on the law” and said that it would be vigorously defended; a judge dismissed the lawsuit in May.)

Beyond the risks that the general public faces in consuming this nonsense and this erroneous information, there is the fact that the president himself took up these same ideas and used them to guide policy. Instead of calling on experts from the medical and scientific community – many of whom are in government payroll – he chose to educate himself by looking at the right-wing media.

Remember the South Carolina campaign rally in late February when Trump dissipated criticism from his political opponents for his viral response as “their new hoax.” Or the White House press conference on February 26 where he said of the virus: “We will soon be just five people. And we could be one or two people in the next short period. The next day, he offered his now infamous insurance “it’s going to go away.”

Over the weeks, and the toll of the virus has become undeniable, Fox’s offers have become a little more responsible, but viewers have been misled for too long. As recently as March 6, a Fox “medical worker” falsely assured Sean Hannity’s audience that the virus was not so bad: “At worst, in the worst case, it could be the flu.” “

To his credit, Fox’s Tucker Carlson was sending a different message, much more reality-based, but it was an outlier on the network in the early weeks of the crisis. In fact, one of the studies found that Carlson viewers took protective measures much earlier than Hannity viewers.

The result was clear: for too long, many followers of most right-wing news have decided that they do not need to stay at home. Others have absorbed the idea that wearing a protective mask is an act of left-wing partisanship.

But the disease leaps through political turmoil quite nimbly.

And so, it is tragic – but again not so surprising – to see the virus now spreading in the Red States where governors and other public officials have joined Trump and his favorite media from the start to minimize the dangers.

Fox News responded to information in a study that put Sean Hannity in subdued light, responding with defensive gas lighting – even using the specific phrase “reckless disregard for the truth”, which is commonly used by those who threaten a defamation lawsuit.

Fox’s response also included the publication of a chronology of Hannity’s segments in the early months of this year – with headlines such as “We have the best people working on coronaviruses” – to prove that the show covered the subject relentlessly. The network noted that Hannity had interviewed the country’s top infectious disease specialist, Anthony S. Fauci, in January.

Hannity’s interviews, however, tend to be Trump’s sycophany exercises rather than fact-finding missions. His first probing question to Fauci in a March interview: “The president’s quarantine in three weeks, [which was] the fastest ever – do you think it probably stopped thousands of Americans from getting the virus and was a smart thing to do? ”

One of the study’s authors convincingly rejected Fox’s criticism that the underlying data had been chosen unfairly: there is no “cherry picking” possible, he said , because independent coders read each transcript between the end of January and the end of March. These academic studies, published in the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review and the National Bureau of Economic Research, are conservative. They do not make eccentric statements and they wisely hide their conclusions because they do not want to go too far.

Yet it is difficult to walk away from it without believing that serious damage has been done. And that it is far from over.

READ MORE from Margaret Sullivan:


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here