Fox figures cite misleading international examples to push for school reopening

Laura Ingraham

Fox News personalities have often been pointing to other countries resuming in-person learning as proof the United States should do the same. Yet they frequently fail to note one crucial difference — the United States’ uniquely high infection rate.

Public health experts and educators agree that reopening schools safely must be a top priority for policymakers. Lessons can and should be learned from countries like Denmark that have reopened schools with careful precautions and without a spike in coronavirus cases. But to assume — as Fox personalities like Laura Ingraham have — that the U.S. experience will mirror those of other countries is to deny the vastly different reality facing this country in terms of the virus’s spread.

Compared to most of the world, the United States has failed to control the spread of coronavirus. In many parts of the country, the virus is spreading at such high levels that the risks of resuming in-person learning as early as this fall outweigh the benefits according to local officials. And while students are unlikely to suffer serious health consequences if infected, adult school staff face greater risks.

While many countries have succeeded in safely reopening their schools with certain precautions in place, the experience is not universal. For instance, Israel experienced a devastating surge in cases after all schools were reopened — 47% of its new COVID-19 cases in June were traced back to schools. But when it comes to supporting measures that could actually help lower the spread of the virus and increase the chance of successful school reopenings, Fox figures have been resistant.

Relying on these misleading international examples misinforms viewers at a time when the public should be united in its efforts to tamp down the virus to the point where students actually can safely return to classrooms.

Laura Ingraham has repeatedly pointed to the experience of European countries without noting disparate infection rates

  • On July 14, Ingraham claimed media figures are “lying to you when they say it’s too dangerous to reopen schools.” As evidence, Ingraham cited a promising study out of Germany which showed only a few students or teachers in schools that had reopened in May were found to have the antibodies that show they were infected with the virus. But Ingraham failed to note that Germany has a far lower infection rate than the United States, and that the study took place in a region of Germany with an even lower infection rate relative to the other parts of that country.
  • In an interview with economist Phil Kerpen on July 7, Ingraham criticized former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb for cautioning against resuming in-person learning. Ingraham played a clip of Gottlieb and asked Kerpen, “Given other countries’ experiences, you see what France is doing, Germany, obviously Sweden never took the younger kids out of school, how uninformed purposely … was that statement?” Ingraham failed to mention that the spread of the virus is greater in the United States compared to those countries.
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Citation From the July 7, 2020, edition of Fox News' The Ingraham Angle

  • Ingraham interviewed pediatrician Dr. Robert Hamilton on June 25, during which she again pointed to the experience of European countries as evidence the United States should resume in-person learning. Ingraham claimed “there’s politics at play here” regarding Democrats cautioning against reopening, and she cited the experience of schools in France and Sweden to prove schools could be reopened safely.

Other Fox personalities have relied on the same faulty reasoning

  • On July 14, prime-time host Sean Hannity complained about Democrats cautioning against resuming in-person learning and cited an editorial published in The Wall Street Journal to advocate for reopening schools. Hannity stated that “there is increasing evidence that we can do this safely,” and he quoted the piece saying, “Schools that have reopened in most countries including Germany, Singapore, Norway, Denmark, Finland, they have not experienced outbreaks.” He failed to mention that all of those countries have a lower infection rate than the United States.
  • On July 13, Dr. Scott Atlas, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, appeared on The Story with Martha MacCallum and downplayed the potential risk to teachers, arguing, “90% are under [the age of] 60 in public schools. They have almost zero risk from this.” When MacCallum asked about those who worry students will transmit the virus to family members, Atlas responded, “Those are people that obviously either don’t know the data or are refractory to learning themselves because the facts say otherwise.” In reality, transmission by children has not been ruled out. MacCallum ended the interview by stating, “We watched, you know, some countries in Scandinavia that went right back, the kids all went right back, and they did very well.” But she didn’t note that the rate at which the virus is spreading in Scandinavian countries is far lower than in the United States.
  • The hosts of Fox & Friends interviewed high school principal Patrick Daly on July 8 after Daly had attended a roundtable discussion at the White House on school reopening. Co-host Brian Kilmeade concluded the interview by claiming, “Success leaves clues and the Netherlands, Australia, and those countries have opened -- Germany [has] opened. So there’s no reason for America not to be open.”