Fox News has pushed misinformation about the novel coronavirus since the pandemic began. And as the country hit record-high new case numbers toward the end of June, Fox News denied that the COVID-19 crisis was worsening. When hosts and guests did admit that cases are rising, they claimed the threat is overblown because death rates are low and young people aren’t as susceptible to the virus. Meanwhile, they continued to push for schools to reopen, with some even suggesting children are not susceptible to COVID-19.
Here are a few recent examples of how Fox News has denied the reality of the coronavirus pandemic:
Claiming the pandemic is ending
Coronavirus cases are currently on the rise in over half the country. On June 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the number of cases is probably 10 times higher than in official reporting. That same day, the number of confirmed cases increased by more than 40,000, a record for the United States that was surpassed the very next day. But Fox News viewers heard a different story, as Fox hosts and their guests claimed numerous times in the last week that the COVID-19 pandemic was actually ending, not worsening -- despite an avalanche of evidence to the contrary.
- On the June 22 edition of Outnumbered, Fox Business host Dagen McDowell claimed the pandemic was waning while criticizing the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for not making public appearances.
- Townhall editor and Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich defended the low turnout at President Donald Trump's June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, “during the end of a pandemic.”
- Asked about rising numbers of infections among young people on the June 22 edition of The Ingraham Angle, guest Dr. Ramin Oskoui said, “I think what it means is herd immunity is starting to develop.” He added, “This is what happens as a viral pandemic like this winds down.” Though he admitted that COVID-19 case numbers were increasing, he focused on still-low death rates, which even host Laura Ingraham acknowledged were “a lagging indicator” of the outbreak.
While some on Fox were talking about “the end of a pandemic,” ICU beds were filling up in Houston hospitals and a 17-year-old in Florida had recently lost her life to COVID-19 complications, becoming “one of the youngest victims of the pandemic” in the state.
Declaring rising infections are not an issue since death rates are still low
Even when Fox has been willing to admit that the coronavirus pandemic is not going away, hosts and guests often claimed that the virus is not an issue as long as the number of deaths remain low. But this narrative is false for a few reasons. Experts fear that death rates will begin to climb significantly in the near future. And there’s evidence that some patients who “recover” from the virus can experience lasting negative health effects.
Fox host Laura Ingraham has been a frequent peddler of coronavirus misinformation throughout the pandemic; as recently as June 15, she was still promoting the drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 even as the Food and Drug Administration ended authorizations for its use. Last week, not only did she use her prime-time show to host people denying the COVID-19 crisis was worsening, but she herself pushed the narrative that death rates would remain low.
- On the June 22 edition of The Ingraham Angle, Ingraham said the mainstream media was pushing a narrative of “COVID armageddon” and then suggested death rates would continue declining despite the massive rise in the coronavirus cases.
- Epidemiologist Harvey Risch downplayed rising case numbers on the June 23 edition of The Ingraham Angle, saying that “if this second wave is largely of young people, as it’s progressing now, then it might not matter that much.” Risch went on to compare new cases of COVID-19 to “an influenza-like illness” that is “mostly just inconvenience and discomfort,” despite horror stories from survivors as young as 16. He concluded, “If the hospitalizations stay down and the deaths stay down, then why should we worry whether we’re having more cases.”
- Ingraham’s prime-time colleagues have also echoed these talking points to downplay new case numbers. On June 29, Fox host Tucker Carlson claimed on Tucker Carlson Tonight that “while coronavirus cases are growing quickly, deaths and hospitalizations are not. It's not clear exactly why.”
This is blatant misinformation. Hospitals are approaching capacity in multiple states with death rates in the worst outbreak areas often taking weeks following increases in case counts. A recent outbreak won’t show corresponding deaths until two or more weeks later.
Additionally, Ingraham and Risch claim that the reason death rates are low is that most of the new cases are among younger patients. But this argument assumes that these young infected people will not infect their parents or other older adults they interact with in daily life and ignores the “concerns that asymptomatic young people are helping to spread the virus to more vulnerable Americans at a time when cases are surging dangerously in the South and the West.” The CDC also recently added obesity and pregnancy to its list of conditions that may place people at higher risk for severe illness, noting that “an estimated 60 percent of American adults have at least one chronic medical condition.” The virus is not just an issue for young people to deal with right now.
Suggesting children are not susceptible to coronavirus
Fox has pushed hard for months to end the economic lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in place to stop the coronavirus spread, and the network remains adamant about the need for schools to reopen in the fall. (Experts’ opinions on reopening schools are more nuanced.) Fox figures have resorted to pushing misinformation in service of this argument, not only claiming that the disease is not “particularly fatal” to young people, but also ignoring that children can spread the virus to others who are more vulnerable.
- On June 23, Fox “news”-side anchor Jon Scott suggested that COVID-19 “is not a disease that is particularly fatal to young people” and that “there is no reason to be closing schools and colleges right now,” only to be corrected by Dr. Robert Lahita.
- Ingraham claimed on June 26, “There is no science that supports keeping kids, especially those in the younger grades, away from the classroom.” Ingraham argued that “the evidence for reopening our schools is overwhelming,” quoting an education policy expert saying that “there are almost no recorded cases of child-to-adult transmission of COVID-19. It's not a zero risk, but we are acting with the March 2020 understanding of COVID-19 and kids and not with the June 2020 understanding of COVID-19 and kids.”
For months, Fox News has watered down the serious complications children with COVID-19 face, conflating the pandemic with the common flu. Previously, on the April 27 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson said that “by the numbers, the annual flu is much more dangerous to children than the coronavirus is,” but “we’ve shut down education nationwide.” He added, “Many schools and colleges are considering staying closed in the fall. For the kids who go to those schools and their families this is a disaster, so it’s fair to ask who has been saved by doing this?”
The assertion that children are resistant enough to be safe from severe cases of the coronavirus is demonstrably false. While children seem to be more resistant to the virus, they can still contract it. Additionally, little is known about what role they play in spreading the virus. Current evidence indicates children could be vectors for the spread of the disease even if they are asymptomatic, potentially spreading the virus to their parents, teachers, school janitorial staff, administrators, and others.
Even more alarming, an inflammatory syndrome tied to COVID-19 is currently hospitalizing children. Multisystem inflammation syndrome (MIS-C) is a severe and sometimes fatal side-effect of COVID-19 requiring intensive care. Researchers have already identified nearly 300 cases of MIS-C in children suffering from COVID-19. To suggest that COVID-19 is not “particularly fatal” to children is to ignore the severe and unpredictable complications faced by those who contract the disease.
Despite signs that coronavirus cases and death rates will continue to worsen, Fox News seems determined to downplay and even disregard the severity of the pandemic.