With Americans settling into social distancing and self-quarantines and the economy grinding to a halt, right-wing media can no longer deny concerns about the coronavirus pandemic as a “hoax” pushed by critics of President Donald Trump. Coverage of the crisis from Fox News and other right-wing media outlets is now settling into familiar territory: racism, xenophobia, and nationalism. We can expect more of it all as the pandemic worsens.
According to some right-wing media figures, anyone who pointed out what was going on were actually the ones obsessed with semantics in the middle of public health crisis:
tucker's two step:
1) spend time and effort focusing effort on calling the virus chinese, as if that's how microbiology works
2) when anyone notices what you're doing, say that they are the ones obsessing over it, not you pic.twitter.com/eewIti2MEz
— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) March 13, 2020
Conservatives do something inflammatory, liberals react, conservatives say “lol look at these libs caring about something ordinary people don't give a shit about”. It's an old trick pic.twitter.com/8b7XLSkyK4
— Almaqah (@_Almaqah) March 19, 2020
Soon, it was too passive to just call it the “China virus.” The next tactic, a step removed from conspiracy theories about a supposed bioweapons lab, was claiming that China “unleashed” it upon the world.
If the media want Trump re-elected by massive numbers, they should keep asking him why he's mean to China after they unleashed coronavirus on an unsuspecting world.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) March 18, 2020
We're in the midst of a global pandemic
Yet ABC's @CeciliaVega is still pushing the Chinese Communist Party's messaging that calling this “The Chinese Virus” is racist
China has been known to pay Americans to peddle their propaganda
Why is she using their evil talking points? pic.twitter.com/P0DxuLlcaS
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) March 18, 2020
What do American reporters get for being China’s prostitutes for free just to own the President?
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) March 19, 2020
Trump himself also repeated this talking point on March 19, with encouragement from pro-Trump cable news network OAN.
While this is all going on, right-wing media were also taking a victory lap to claim that their racist border and immigration policies were wise all along. From Fox’s Tomi Lahren: “[We] have long been criticized and labeled everything from xenophobic to racist and bigoted, but now, a few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic, turns out we may have been on to something. You think?”
In addition to claiming a perverse policy victory from emergency travel restrictions, right-wing media are also using the pandemic to warn against “resettling refugees in your neighborhood” and “dropping outsiders, foreign nationals into their communities.”
As awful as this is, it’s not going to stop without outside pressure. Bigotry is what binds the Trump coalition together, and anyone who has a problem with it jumped ship a long time ago. The ones that are left -- particularly on Fox News, right up to Lachlan and Rupert Murdoch themselves -- know that bigotry is always the go-to play, even when there’s a body count.
At the same time, as The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer points out, what conservative media figures want most of all is to distract from the colossal failings of the Trump administration and to make the national conversation about accusations of racism and a supposed backlash to political correctness.
So mainstream media should be aggressive calling this strategy out for what it is: Rank bigotry which disregards anti-Asian violence and seeks to support anti-immigrant policies. But it is also a transparent attempt to ignore how right-wing media’s hero grossly botched the response to a pandemic -- and how many people will now die because of it.