As coronavirus surges across the country, Fox propagandists are fighting new efforts to slow its spread

Fox Covid Magnifying Glass

Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters

A coronavirus tsunami is bearing down on the United States. Nearly every state is experiencing uncontrolled spread. With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations at record levels, medical facilities are strained to the breaking point and considering how to ration care. More than 1,400 deaths from the virus were recorded Wednesday, an already dire figure that will surely worsen. And President Donald Trump seems to be paying no attention at all even as his White House is experiencing an outbreak, except to demand credit for the development of a vaccine whose distribution is being imperiled by his refusal to yield the election to President-elect Joe Biden.

Fox News’ propagandists have gotten exactly what they wanted. They sought a focus on reopening businesses -- even the most high-risk ones, like restaurants, bars, and gyms --  rather than crushing the virus; a logjam on federal aid to push states into ending economic restrictions; a culture war against widespread use of facemasks; and the sidelining of public health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci in favor of their own regular guest Scott Atlas, a radiologist whom Trump put on the White House coronavirus task force because the president liked his Fox hits and who reportedly recommended letting the virus rip through the country. Thanks to their unrivaled influence over the president, that’s precisely what happened. 

Now, as the horrific consequences of adopting Fox’s advice are coming into focus, the very same people are poisoning the well against efforts by public health experts and Democratic leaders to get the virus back under control and limit a cataclysmic loss of American lives. The Fox propagandists are lashing out at proposed restrictions, often without bothering to acknowledge that these recommendations are coming against the backdrop of a calamitous resurgence of the pandemic. Their rhetoric will make it more difficult for Democratic governors to successfully implement those recommendations; for governors in other states to take action; and for Biden to roll back the tide of deaths when he finally takes office in January.

Hedging on the likelihood that Biden overcomes Trump’s legal challenges and becomes president, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson have both used their shows to warn against the possibility that he might try to implement a nationwide “lockdown” and promote mask usage. Studies suggest that the spring business shutdowns and stay-at-home orders saved millions of lives and prevented up to 60 million infections in the U.S., and there is broad expert consensus that face masks help prevent the spread of the virus.

On Monday, after Biden announced his COVID-19 task force, Ingraham claimed that “the key lesson from today is that Biden's COVID plans are not driven by science” because “lockdowns, masks, none of it seemed to stem the virus.” She went on to say, “The American people didn't vote to lock themselves down and I believe they will resist any such effort.” In a follow-up segment, Dr. Ramin Oskoui, a cardiologist who regularly appears on Ingraham’s program to spread misinformation about the coronavirus, claimed that “the science actually says that lockdowns may actually delay herd immunity and may delay countries coming back.”

Ingraham returned to the subject on Tuesday. After airing a comment from epidemiologist and Biden task force member Dr. Michael Osterholm on the need to “lockdown to drive this infection level to a place where we can actually control it,” she turned to Atlas for his response. The White House coronavirus adviser, who apparently has plenty of time to do interviews on Fox programs in which he provides no useful information about the deadly surge, responded that Osterholm was “denying the data that exists on all the places that did lockdowns, because the fact is the lockdown does not get rid of the virus.” Ingraham and Atlas went on to take shots at Fauci, with Ingraham claiming he had become “a political pundit for Joe Biden” and Atlas chiming in that “maybe he’s cheered up because of the election” and lost his credibility by becoming a “political animal.”

Carlson also went after Osterholm that night, with the help of his frequent guest, “Covid Contrarian” Alex Berenson. Berenson suggested that lockdowns are ineffective and “inherently political,” suggesting that they had been implemented as part of a plot to defeat Trump’s reelection. He went on to urge Republicans to “raise their voices” during the Biden administration to prevent “national lockdowns” and “national mask mandates” while making their own coronavirus recommendations, which he did not detail. Carlson responded that Republicans should “save the country from complete destruction from any of those threats, but certainly from a COVID shutdown, which I don't think anybody thinks it's a good idea.”

On Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced new restrictions in light of the surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the state and throughout the country. Beginning Friday, restaurants, bars, and gyms cannot remain open past 10 p.m., and no more than 10 people may attend indoor and outdoor gatherings at private homes. If anything, these guidelines are too minor to curb the spread of the virus, which does not care at what time people are dining, drinking, or exercising indoors without masks. But Fox hosts are predictably branding them as tyrannical.

“So if you were to somehow get inside the brain of any authoritarian, you would find that their fantasies aren't the conventional fantasies,” Carlson opened his segment on the Cuomo restrictions Wednesday. “An authoritarian fantasizes about controlling you, and coronavirus has given the perfect pretext to do that. Now, they force their way into your home. You're not going to believe this story.”

And Fox & Friends on Thursday featured attacks on both Osterholm’s lockdown comments and Cuomo’s new restrictions.

Trump’s administration is coming to an end. But his Fox supporters and their Murdoch bosses seem to want to make sure that he doesn’t leave office without a shocking death toll.