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Trump and Fox News: dangerous ties to shape Americaís coronavirus response


The Fox News host Sean Hannity with US President Donald Trump in 2018. (File photo)

"I would say without question itís the biggest decision Iíve ever had to make," Donald Trump said on Friday, contemplating when and how he will relax physical distancing guidelines and reopen the American economy.

In one ear, he has medical experts pleading caution. In the other, Fox News urges the opposite.

The conservative TV network has been widely condemned for downplaying the threat of Covid-19 even as it took measures to protect its own staff. And with the projected death toll poised to avoid the worst-case scenario, some hosts are resuming their gung-ho attitude.

"At some point, the president is going to have to look at Drs Fauci and Birx and say, weíre opening on May 1," Laura Ingraham tweeted this week. "Give me your best guidance on protocols, but we cannot deny our people their basic freedoms any longer."

Tomi Lahren, a host on Fox Nation, added bluntly: "Itís time to start the reopen of America."

The symbiotic relationship between the Trump administration and Fox News has long been chronicled. Ideas and personnel move back and forth. The president is a regular interviewee and the host Sean Hannity once spoke at a Trump rally.

Indeed, on some occasions Fox News echoes, amplifies and refines Trumpís message, while on others the president takes his cue from its programming.

Sean Spicer, a host on the conservative Newsmax channel and former Trump White House press secretary, said: "Thereís no question about it that he watches a lot of Fox and you can tell by the tweets and the comments and his actions. Heíll tweet out, ‘I just saw on Fox & Friendsí or ‘Hannity segment tonightí. I donít think thatís a debatable point. I donít think the White House would debate that. I hope not."

But when the coronavirus outbreak began, the stakes rose. While Fox News reporters did cover it, some opinion hosts rhymed with Trump in comparing it to flu and accusing liberals of whipping up hysteria. On 3 March, Jesse Watters, a co-host of The Five, boasted: "You want to know how I really feel about the coronavirus, Juan? If I get it, Iíll beat it ... Iím not afraid of the coronavirus and no one else should be that afraid either."

Watters later admitted he was wrong, but this and remarks from Hannity, Jeanine Pirro and other Fox News and conservative media stars will live in infamy in a video compilation produced by The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, under the title: "Saluting the Heroes of the Coronavirus Pandumbic".

What effect did these comments have? Four in five Fox News viewers surveyed by Pew Research said they believed the media had exaggerated the risks of the virus. An open letter to Fox Corporationís chairman, Rupert Murdoch, and chief executive, Lachlan Murdoch, signed by 74 journalism professors and leading journalists, described Fox News misinformation as "a danger to public health".

It argued: "As the virus spread across the world, Fox News hosts and guests minimized the dangers, accusing Democrats and the media of inflating the dangers (in Sean Hannityís words) to ‘bludgeon Trump with this new hoaxí. Such commentary encouraged Donald Trump to trivialize the threat and helped obstruct national, state and local efforts to limit the coronavirus."

Hannity was unrepentant. He told Newsweek: "Go to my website and youíll see irrefutable evidence that I have taken this seriously way before most in the media did. I warned in January that it was dangerous because it was highly contagious, but some people were asymptomatic, so it would spread quickly."

Some of the Trump old guard, such as Steve Bannon and Tucker Carlson, were quicker to recognize the virus could not be wished away. On 7 March Carlson delivered a warning in person to Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. On 9 March he told Fox News viewers: "People you trust, people you probably voted for, have spent weeks minimizing what is clearly a very serious problem.

"Itís just partisan politics, they say: ‘Calm down. In the end, this is just like the flu and people die from that every year. Coronavirus will pass, and when it does, we will feel foolish for worrying about it.í

"Thatís their position. But theyíre wrong."

On 13 March Trump declared a national emergency, and soon after called himself a "wartime president". Hannity and others fell into line, denying they had ever sought to downplay the virus.

‘Major responsibilityí

Dan Cassino, a political scientist at Fairleigh Dickinson University and author of Fox News and American Politics: How One Channel Shapes American Politics and Society, said: "Some of the prime-time shows have been better at shaping [Trump] than others. Hannity is all about repeating what the president says.

"Hannity isnít leading him except sometimes on rhetoric: heís very good at taking what Trump is saying and making it fit the mould of conservatism. Tucker Carlson has been more effective on pushing him into certain positions. We saw it on the air and, according to reports, in a personal capacity."

It did not take long for conservative media to backslide. Predictive models now suggest the final US death toll could be around 60,000, staggering by any measure, but significantly lower than a projection on 31 March of between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths.

Several hosts on Fox News and elsewhere have floated the conspiracy theory that the numbers might be exaggerated, using unrelated medical conditions in an effort to paint Trump in a negative light in an election year. Even Carlson said: "There may be reasons people seek an inaccurate death count. When journalists work with numbers, there sometimes is an agenda."

Carlson has also suggested the crisis "may have passed", even as America approaches half a million cases amid hellish scenes of crowded hospitals and island burials in New York. The right has also attacked Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, fitting a longstanding narrative that derides experts and the so-called "deep state". And there has been cheer-leading for Trumpís promotion of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug that is unproven for treating coronavirus.

Federal guidelines on physical distancing expire on 30 April. Trump is hurtling towards a life-and-death decision on whether to extend them or, with millions of jobs already lost, at least partly restart the economy. He promised on Friday: "I will look at both sides of the argument." But could Fox News tilt the balance again?

Sidney Blumenthal, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, said: "Fox News bears major responsibility for the vulnerability of the public to coronavirus and the fatalities, just as Trump does. Trump has said that heís not responsible. He is, and so is Fox News. They are linked together in responsibility for the consequences of coronavirus.

"Thereís a moral dimension that flows from irresponsibility on which you have put hundreds of millions of people at risk for their lives, not only heedless but knowingly. But the idea that Rupert Murdoch, any more than Donald Trump, could be shamed by their moral culpability is dealing in the fantastic."

 

(Source: The Guardian)

 

LINK: https://www.ansarpress.com/english/15750


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