The Fox News primetime lineup ignores the COVID-19 death toll
Molly Butler / Media Matters 

Research/Study Research/Study

As America faces 100,000 COVID-19 deaths, the national death toll is absent from Fox prime time

Over 12 days of programming, Fox News prime-time hosts mentioned the COVID-19 death toll just five times -- and only to attack Democrats, public health officials, or the media

As the American death toll from COVID-19 races towards 100,000, it seems Fox News’ prime-time lineup has decided to avoid mentioning the number as much as possible. A Media Matters review found that between May 11 and May 26, the coronavirus’s total U.S. numeric death toll was mentioned between the hours of 8-11 p.m. on Fox only 11 times in almost 36 hours of programming, and only five times by the hosts themselves. Three of the mentions of the death toll during Fox prime time were from a clip of presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

  • Update (5/27/20, 1:30 p.m. EDT): MSNBC reports that the official death toll for the United States has exceeded 100,000.

  • Prime-time coverage omits mentions of coronavirus death toll

  • As of May 27, at least 98,000 Americans have reportedly died from COVID-19 in the United States. A review by Media Matters found that explicit mentions of the nationwide death toll were virtually absent for 12 days worth of episodes of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Hannity, and The Ingraham Angle.

    Across nearly 36 hours of programming, the precise number of dead in the United States was mentioned just five times on Hannity, twice on The Ingraham Angle, and four times on Tucker Carlson Tonight. The majority of direct references to the national death toll were in external clips, guest appearances, or segments featuring guest anchors.

  • Hannity

  • Fox host Sean Hannity didn’t mention the precise national death toll himself between May 11 and May 26. The closest he came to doing so was when, during an extensive attack on the credibility of Dr. Anthony Fauci, Hannity said on May 12 that “to date under 100,000 have passed away” after some models had previously estimated “millions of Americans” could die. Hannity then called for reopening the economy.

    Aside from that reference downplaying the number of victims, the national death toll was mentioned only four times on Hannity in the 14-day period.

    Two of those were during a May 15 episode guest-hosted by Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz -- once in a clip of Joe Biden in which the former vice president conflated the death toll and the number of job losses, and once by guest Gordon Chang.

    In a Memorial Day special, Hannity ran two updates from anchor Jackie Ibanez in which she mentioned that the death toll is approaching 100,000.

  • The Ingraham Angle

  • On May 14, Laura Ingraham mentioned the number 85,000, the approximate death toll at the time, while quoting that aforementioned clip of Biden. She did not clarify that the number Biden cited was the COVID-19 death toll, instead suggesting Biden “doesn't even know how many people are unemployed in America.”

    Similar to on Hannity, a news update with Jackie Ibanez mentioning that the death toll was nearing the 100,000 also ran during The Ingraham Angle’s Memorial Day special.

  • Tucker Carlson Tonight

  • Tucker Carlson Tonight also played the Biden clip on May 15.

    Tucker Carlson mentioned the death count twice on May 11, both times to criticize journalists and pundits who were talking about the devastating impact of COVID-19 on minority populations. He said “tens of thousands” had died in a national trauma not felt since World War II but quickly pivoted to accuse journalists calling attention to the pandemic's disproportionate impacts of “encouraging us to hate our neighbors.” In a tease for that segment, Carlson had also mentioned the death toll, only to suggest that people who brought up the effect on minority communities were fanning what he called “race hatred.”

    On May 26, Carlson attacked CNN segments about large crowds at the Lake of the Ozarks; the CNN segments had the total death count on screen. Carlson additionally read the death toll while mocking a CNN chyron that read “Americans flock to public places as death toll nears 100,000.” “What exactly does that mean?” mused Carlson.

  • Video file

    Citation From the May 26, 2020, edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight

  • Fox News’ terrible COVID-19 coverage

  • The omission of the accurate nationwide death toll from Fox’s prime-time programming fits into a larger network pattern of downplaying the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic — including scaling back its coverage of the public health crisis in favor of bogus stories like “Obamagate” — while also pushing misinformation about it. What COVID-19 coverage Fox does offer is plagued by contrarian, reactionary commentary aimed at stirring up outrage against mitigation efforts. For instance, Fox has celebrated shutdown protesters and ignored criticism of states that are reopening againsts the advice and requirements of White House guidelines, while its “news” shows largely ignored the testimony of a Trump administration whistleblower who warned of critical shortages and lack of preparedness in the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak.

    And the omission of the national death toll from Fox’s prime-time coverage is not inconsequential. An April poll showed that a plurality of Fox viewers believe that fewer Americans have died of COVID-19 than official reports say. The climbing national death toll is a direct contradiction to the network’s stance that COVID-19 isn’t that big of a deal -- and it seems that what Fox cannot justify, it has chosen to simply ignore.

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters searched transcripts for Tucker Carlson Tonight, Hannity, and The Ingraham Angle in the SnapStream video database and Nexis transcript database for any of the terms “death” or any variations of the terms “die” or “kill” within close proximity of any of the terms “coronavirus,” “COVID-19,” “virus,” “pandemic,” or “outbreak” from May 11 through May 22, 2020. We looked for any explicit numeric references to the national coronavirus death toll.