Fox News and Facebook will be hosting a virtual town hall on the coronavirus pandemic using a video-calling device from the social media company. According to a report from The Verge, the April 2 event will be moderated by “straight news” anchor Martha MacCallum and will feature appearances from White House coronavirus task force members, including Dr. Deborah Birx and Surgeon General Jerome Adams, as well as Mike Rowe, former host of the television show Dirty Jobs.
In recent weeks, Rowe has used Facebook to downplay the risks of COVID-19. In a March 19 post to his Facebook page, which has over 5.6 million followers, Rowe criticized nationwide social distancing efforts and temporary closures of nonessential businesses, saying, “I am concerned that the medicine we’re prescribing might turn out to be more deadly than the virus we’re trying to kill.” Leaning on the catchphrase “Safety Third” from a previous hour-long special he hosted, Rowe also decried “the unintended consequences of ranking Safety above everything else,” which he said is “precisely what our leaders are doing right now.” He asked his fans to imagine if society treated automobile deaths “with the same frenzied, up-to-the minute drama as each new virus infection. … Would any of us ever drive again?” Rowe continued:
I don’t know if we’re overacting, but the manner in which the information is being disseminated suggests the situation is already catastrophic. Is it? According to Dr. Ioannidis, we’re treating a virus that MIGHT have devastating consequences, in a way that will GUARANTEE devastating consequences.
Rowe’s comments also echo President Donald Trump’s medically inaccurate talking points from a recent town hall on Fox News in which he compared the coronavirus to the flu, saying, “We’ve never closed down the country for the flu.”
Rowe’s irresponsible comments shared on Facebook fit in with Fox News’ pattern of pushing medical misinformation, downplaying the virus, giving a platform to conspiracy theories, and engaging in racist fearmongering. Indeed, MacCallum herself has repeatedly chided Democrats who have criticized the Trump administration's inadequate response to the crisis. She also lent credence to an unsubstantiated theory about the origins of the coronavirus when she hosted Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) for a clean-up interview after he was called out for spreading this narrative without evidence.
Considering the track records of the parties involved, it’s fair to doubt that viewers will come away more informed from tonight’s Fox News and Facebook town hall.