Viewers of Fox News, and listeners tuning in talk radio, until this week were given plenty of reason to doubt and dismiss calls to action over the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The top rated mouth on cable TV, Sean Hannity, accused Democrats of “using this virus as a political weapon against the President.” Laura Ingraham, on Fox News, called political opp0nents “the pandemic party,” adding: “How sick that these people seem almost happiest when we are hurting.” It was, said Ingraham, a “great time to fly if not in an at-risk condition.”
At full throttle, likely with President Donald Trump taking in his words, Hannity declared: “So far, in the United States, there’s been around 30 deaths, most of which came from one nursing home in the state of Washington. Healthy people, generally, (have) 99% recovery, very fast, even if they contract the virus.”
Consistency is, Sen. Everett Dirksen, the hobgoblin of small minds. The minds at Fox News seem to have experienced an awakening akin the St. Paul being knocked off his horse.
“Tonight, we are witnessing what will be a massive paradigm shift in the future of disease control and prevention,” Hannity said this week.
Tucker Carlson, an informal adviser to Trump, came as close as a prime time Fox host can to criticizing the President’s initial response, saying of COVID-19 that “none of our leaders helped us to take it seriously . . . People you trust, people you probably voted for, have spent weeks minimizing what is clearly a very serious problem.”
A moment when excess became intolerable arrived last week, when Fox Business host Trish Regan accused Democrats of promoting “mass hysteria to encourage a market selloff” and added: “Many in the liberal media using coronavirus to demonize and destroy the president.” Regan has since been put on “hiatus.”
A few figures on the right need be singled out for putting medical truth ahead of the partisan line. “Time to wake up!” KVI Radio host (and former Republican state chair) Kirby Wilbur wrote last week on his Facebook page. Tucker Carlson broke into the partying and cronyism at Mar-a-Lago to deliver a message directly to Trump: Take this seriously.”
Kirby Wilbur is hot to blame China — he dubs it the “Wuhan virus” — and defends his president. But he posted a chilling empty-Vatican picture along with tough advice from the husband of the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. Wrote Newt Gingrich: “I am in Italy amid the coronavirus crisis. America must act now, and act big.”
The sudden switch is particularly apparent on Fox & Friends, Trump’s favorite a.m. show, even — almost unheard of — a call to community. Said host Ainsley Earhardt, so recently a doubter:
“We have a responsibility to slow down this virus and think of other people during this time. So if you can keep your distance, and prevent someone from getting close to you that might be sick, you can save your family, you can save the elderly, and help our country as a nation.”
Knowing where this is coming from, however, we can be thankful for the softening of hearts, but must remain mindful.
Until days ago, loud mouths on cable TV successfully performed partisan “spin,” sowing suspicion and doubt. A pair of new polls show the impact of disinformation that preceded this week’s awakening.
An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll asked if people about avoiding large gatherings: 61% of Democrats said Yes, just 30% of Republicans. Change or cancel travel plans: 47% of Democrats were ready, only 23% of Republicans. Worries that a family member might catch the coronavirus? 68% of Democrats answered in the affirmative, 40% of Republicans.
A Marist poll for National Public Radio was in the field Friday and Saturday, just as Trump was declaring a state of emergency. It found that the percentage of Americans who felt COVID-19 was a “real threat” had actually declined from mid-February. The percentage of Republicans went down from 72-40%.
“Since the pandemic has taken root and grown in the United States, Democrats and Republicans are now polls apart,” said Lee Miringoff, director of polling at Marist.
Americans have a history of putting aside divisions and coming together, when absolutely we must.
The bombardment of skepticism has stopped, but sure hasn’t made national unity and purpose any easier.