The people most at risk in the novel coronavirus pandemic are the elderly and those with immunodeficiency. That’s why we all have a duty to practice social distancing, even if we are younger and unlikely to bear the brunt of all this. We owe it to people in gravest danger. In America, many of those at-risk older folks watch a lot of Fox News. In some cases, it’s their main or only source of information. But even over the last day or so, the network has scarcely changed the tune on its opinion shows, even as Fox employees are now starting to work from home.
The morning and primetime shows are still downplaying the threat of the virus, occasionally suggesting it’s some sort of plot orchestrated against the president. (By the Deep State? In coordination with, uh, 60 million Italians? And the first lady of Canada?) The network is offering people misinformation or even outright conspiracies, often by booking guests who have zero expertise in any field beyond kissing Donald Trump’s ass. In short, the Fox News Channel is an enterprise that seems determined to place its core customer base in mortal danger. Beyond the sociopathy, this seems bad for business.
We had one example last night on the television program hosted by Sean Hannity, just the man you want serving up fact-like objects regarding a global pandemic. The superstar peddler of resentment and paranoia hosted a succession of people who know nothing about pandemic disease to yell at each other about who’s peddling “Chinese propaganda.” Then he had on Tom Cotton, United States Senator from Arkansas, and one of the most brazenly irresponsible people in elected office today.
They are conspiracizing about Hunter Biden after weeks of completely failing their viewers on the actual defining issue of the day. Not only that, Cotton was determined to hit every insane note. He had a fair-enough critique of Joe Biden’s comments on China—they were, indeed, stupid—but then it was on to vague insinuation of Biden corruption; unproven claims about the effectiveness of Trump’s travel ban on China; framing the pandemic, without evidence, as an attack on America by “the Chinese Communist Party.” Using smoke and mirrors that fans of The Emails (2016) will recognize, Cotton attempted to tie Hunter Biden’s overseas business connections to coronavirus.
Then Hannity jumped in with some (nonsense) Ukraine talk before a brief discussion of how hard he, Sean Hannity, has worked for his money.
Then Cotton was back on, suggesting there are “fishy circumstances” and calling for an investigation into the Bidens. Again, this is amid a global pandemic Fox has downplayed for weeks. (Cotton, for his part, has been making a lot of noise about it.) Then Cotton reiterated the notion, citing zero evidence, that this is some sort of bioweapon attack orchestrated by China on the whole world. If there is an elected official hornier for international conflict than Tom Cotton, his first name is Lindsey.
Yes, the Chinese government lied and distorted the issue for months and punished whistleblowers in totalitarian fashion. We still had months to prepare and did nothing. The President of the United States himself distorted and downplayed the threat constantly. He said people were going to work while sick, no big deal. He said it would go away miraculously. He said we were on the brink of having a vaccine available. All of this was complete bullshit, excavated from his ass and served up to the public at a juncture when we actually could have done something.
And just last night, we learned via NPR this public posture completely reflected what was going on behind the scenes. Trump rejected pleas from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar that coronavirus represented a serious threat that required action in January. Up until this week, the president has resisted widespread testing—one of the keys to South Korea’s success in mitigating the problem—for a simple reason: “The president had made clear—the lower the numbers on coronavirus, the better for the president, the better for his potential reelection this fall.”
Throughout all this, the president and his allies have believed they can will this thing away like every other scandal that has struck his presidency. If they just keep doubling down on unreality, eventually enough people will believe it that it will be true, just like all their other scams. Except the virus is impervious to bullshit. Cotton’s deployment of the term “Chinese coronavirus” is a signal they are going to try to racism their way out of this now, but it’s not going to work when Fox News viewers start contracting the virus in large numbers. Which, as it stands, is going to happen. Earlier this week, a congressional doctor estimated 75 to 150 million Americans will get this thing. But this is what Fox served up to viewers this morning.
What the fuck, man? Why are you hosting Trump’s pastor-adjacent amigo—who has intricate ties to former Trump fixer Michael Cohen—to talk about a public-health threat? What value does Jerry Falwell offer if you actually want to inform your viewers, who again are often in the most at-risk demographic group, about the situation with COVID-19? (Later, he called for various counties to secede from Virginia. To reiterate: what the fuck?) Falwell even took Cotton’s bioweapon conspiracy-mongering to a new level, suggesting this was the result of North Korea’s (??) work in cahoots with China. Also, he said it’s an impeachment hoax. Again: 60 million Italians are quarantined in their homes, singing together out their windows to feel they’re not alone for days on end, as part of a plan to remove the American president from office?
This is just more doubling down, even as these people surely know that some of the people watching are going to die from this thing. That is just a fact. Fox News viewers who’ve been told for weeks that this thing is not a big deal, that the media is blowing it out of proportion to hurt the president, that it’s some bioweapon-slash-hoax, are going to die. Eventually, everyone will agree that this was not some Liberal Fake News Anti-Trump Hoax. Eventually, it will surely be clear, even to Fox News viewers, that Fox News has been lying about it in conjunction with the president. Will this change how people evaluate what constitutes a good source of information? Don’t hold your breath.