On March 25, The Federalist published an article suggesting “controlled voluntary infection” -- similar to “chickenpox parties" -- as a potential solution to the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. The astoundingly irresponsible suggestion, hinging on the advice of an unlicensed dermatologist and businessman, is only the latest in The Federalist’s recklessly dangerous coronavirus coverage.
The article, written by Douglas A. Perednia, argues that the mitigation and suppression of the disease through tactics like social distancing will only cripple the economy for future generations and won’t resolve the problem in the long term. In order to avoid economic devastation and other issues, Perednia suggests that people voluntarily contract coronavirus to build herd immunity. Though the article identified Perednia as a physician in Oregon, his medical license has expired and he appears to have “spent the last 25 years as a businessman of various sorts.”
The article contradicts the harsh steps experts have warned need to be taken in order to avoid a nightmare scenario with coronavirus, and Twitter ultimately took down a tweet from The Federalist promoting the article (and locked its account) for violating rules on the spread of disinformation about COVID-19. (In a twisted coincidence, on the day the article was published, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear lambasted individuals for taking part in a “coronavirus party,” where one person ended up testing positive for the virus.)
The article comes amid a growing push by conservatives to prioritize the economy over slowing down the spread of the virus -- a position Trump is clearly favoring. While the suggestion of controlled voluntary infection parties is a low for the publication, it’s unsurprising given the rest of The Federalist’s irresponsible, inflammatory coronavirus coverage.
Co-founded by Ben Domenech and Sean Davis, The Federalist has pushed irresponsible, counterproductive narratives at a time when disinformation on the virus is rampant online. The Federalist has downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus, publishing articles suggesting that measures like social distancing are unnecessary and a result of panic by Democrats and the media.
A Federalist contributor also appeared on One America News, where he and the host appeared to agree that Italy is purposefully inflating its death toll numbers.
The Federalist has also taken part in the conservative push to goad Trump into prematurely reopening businesses, a move that could have disastrous consequences greater than the current disruption of the economy, including the collapse of the health care industry.
On Twitter, Federalist contributor Jesse Kelly exclaimed that “you do not destroy your economy for ANY reason. … The show must go on.” In another tweet, Kelly said that he would “happily die” if “given the choice between dying and plunging the country I love into a Great Depression.”
The Federalist has also had a xenophobic response to the virus. In March, the site began referring to coronavirus as the “Wuhan Virus” or “Chinese Virus” in headlines and articles, including in more neutral coverage such as updates. Global experts have warned that emphasizing geographic ties to the virus is counterproductive in the face of rising anti-Asian discrimination , which is why public health experts settled on the neutral “coronavirus.”
Still, The Federalist has insisted on using the term, publishing multiple articles defending the use of “Wuhan” or “Chinese” virus and complaining about political correctness. Now, “Wuhan Virus” is the name of the category tag for stories associated with coronavirus on the site. At times, The Federalist has also bizarrely shortened the name to just “WuFlu.”
When Democrats and the media began to criticize Trump and his allies for insisting on referring to coronavirus as the “Chinese” or “Wuhan” virus at the potential cost of Asian Americans’ safety, The Federalist (among others in right-wing media) accused the media and Democrats of peddling Chinese communist propaganda. Davis tweeted that it’s “Stalinesque how the corporate media are literally revising history on behalf of the communist Chinese government.” Federalist contributor Mollie Hemingway also accused Democrats and members of the media of spreading Chinese propaganda.
Over the course of the last several weeks, The Federalist has also published an article arguing that China is “lashing out” because “communist China’s leaders are afraid because they feel a parallel to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which hardened everyone’s resolve and awakened a sleeping giant”; accused the World Health Organization of “boot-lick[ing]” China after a “near-total takeover” of the organization by China, which “comes at a sharp human cost”; and touted a non-FDA-approved drug pushed by Trump as a “potential coronavirus treatment.”
The Federalist has always lacked credibility, and its writers and contributors often say inflammatory things to grab attention. But now, in the face of a growing global pandemic, The Federalist poses a public safety threat with its irresponsible coronavirus coverage.