Fox News and other right-wing media mount new back-to-work push against coronavirus lockdowns

“Every life is precious” — but “we also have to understand the cost”

Between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, there has been an increased wave of right-wing media figures calling for an end to the economic lockdown in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. As they’ve begun to explain rather openly, the cost for jobs and businesses is just too much for what they deem is a low death figure being reported.

Left out of all these discussions is a key detail: The reason that COVID-19 death predictions have been revised down from over 2 million to a (still horrific) figure of up to 240,000 is precisely because of the social distancing and stay-at-home orders. If that regimen were to simply be lifted, then the projected deaths would rise again — especially if the health care system were to become overwhelmed.

But as they miss this point, many of these right-wing media figures seem to think even this reduced level of deaths has come with too high an economic cost.

On the Thursday night edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, the eponymous host defended Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for suggesting last week on his show that senior citizens should be willing to risk the increased health dangers in order to restore jobs and businesses. Carlson declared that there should’ve been a greater discussion about businesses remaining operational while just certain vulnerable groups “remained inside, cloistered away” — even if there was a greater risk of death rate becoming higher — rather than costing millions of jobs.

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Citation From the April 2, 2020, edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight

TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): What would've happened for example if we would’ve adopted a more conventional response to this epidemic? What if we asked the elderly and the immunocompromised and anyone else facing statistically higher rates of risk to stay inside, cloistered away. And then at the same time allowed the rest of the population to use informed common sense and continue to work? What if we’d done that a month ago? Would the death rate today be much higher than it is now? Maybe, maybe not. We don't know. But it’s clearly a conversation we should’ve had before we locked the entire country down and put ten million people out of work. But we didn’t have that conversation. Instead we outsourced the decision to public health officials. And that's a strange irony of the moment we’re living through. One of the main lessons of this crisis is that the public health establishment failed us badly.

On Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, Fox host Mark Levin gave a dire warning that the financial aid bills would turn America into Venezuela by “pouring money into industries that are not open” and paying people not to work. “Don't pass another bill. Open up parts of the economy,” Levin said. “Ask these businesses what they can do, and tell these governors to cut it out.”

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Citation From the April 2, 2020, edition of Fox News' Hannity 

On The Ingraham Angle, Fox host Laura Ingraham decried the statistical models “funded by billionaires that keep Americans out of work,” said that “hundreds of thousands” of Americans die of all sorts of things — though of course “every life is precious” — but that the economic lockdown to fight coronavirus might “kill the patient, which is America.”

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Citation From the April 2, 2020, edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle

In a discussion with guest Victor Davis Hanson, the two of them also further talked about how awful it was to shut down the economy over such minimal deaths now happening.

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Citation From the April 2, 2020, edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle

LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): Yes, well, when you have PhD, scientists, biostatisticians, bio — you know physics experts, Nobel laureates saying wait a second, we have to know the denominator to understand the lethality of this disease. And every life is precious, we want to keep everybody safe and we — of course, that's a given. But we also have to understand the cost of American lives on the other side of this.

When they're saying this now, Victor, you got to — you got to imagine the policymakers at some point will hear from the people who are suffering with these job losses in these businesses and say, you know, “We have lives as well, and we have to somehow preserve them.”

VICTORY DAVIS HANSON (SENIOR FELLOW, THE HOOVER INSTITUTION): Laura, I'm sitting in a state that's the fifth largest economy in the world that’s completely shut down and we've suffered less than 250 deaths and we have about 3 million people. Three people per million that have died.

We have twice the population of New York and we've suffered one-tenth the deaths and one-twentieth the deaths on per capita basis and so this one size fit all is absolutely insane. There are individual conditions, many of which we don't know. But we do know the results and California should be treated in a different way than New York City.

And that means that we can have a graduated return to some type of normalcy because we're — it doesn't — we don't shut down the greatest economy in the United States in California because we have three people per million dying. That's just a fact of life when we have 760 people in California dying every day. And during this crisis we have about four extra on average.

INGRAHAM: Now Victor, we're going to be — and I loved it piece, by the way, which I posted and everyone's got to read and I'll send it around again tonight on Twitter, discussing just that. An actual data, an actual numbers, not to minimize any loss of life.

On Friday morning’s edition of America’s Newsroom, Fox Business anchor David Asman responded to the newest unemployment figures by warning that the country was on the verge of a new Great Depression, and asked, “How many lives would be lost as a result of that as opposed to the coronavirus?” After April, Asman concluded, “We have to get back to work.”

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Citation From the April 3, 2020, edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom

DAVID ASMAN (FOX BUSINESS ANCHOR): The Oxford Economics projects a loss of 30 million jobs by the beginning of June. That would be a 16% unemployment rate. We have not seen those figures since the Great Depression. And the real key here, Sandra [Smith], and you know this so well, is what would be worse for America right now — another Great Depression like we had back in the 1930s or a continuation of the coronavirus? A lot of people say with the various restrictions we have in place now, with the various medications that are online, we better get back to work soon, that is, at the end of this 30-day period. If not, we are risking a Great Depression. And how many lives would be lost as a result of that, as opposed to the coronavirus?

There’s no getting over — there’s no easy solution here, but there’s a lot of money out there for individuals — the 157 million people in the workforce, for the 30 million small businesses, and for individuals who are going to be getting those checks. So as long as the government operates efficiently — that's hoping for a lot — but if that happens, we'll be OK at least for the month. After that, I think we have to get back to work.

Indeed, Variety reported that an internal Fox News memo shows the company is hoping for a “possible return to work” for remote employees in early May.

And the patience of Fox’s on-air personalities is running out. On this afternoon’s edition of Outnumbered, co-host Melissa Francis wondered: “Who doesn't know 10, 12 people who have it at this point, personally? … At this point we are destroying our economy. ... That part is so scary to me. I don't know about the continued stay inside. I'm losing faith in it.”

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Citation From the April 3, 2020, episode of Fox News' Outnumbered

Other right-wing media figures are also pushing this narrative.

Far-right online personality Mike Cernovich put the dollars-for-lives argument rather bluntly:

Jim Hoft of The Gateway Pundit — a right-wing outlet known for pushing conspiracy theories and recently quoted by Trump — tweeted an appeal to “Open The Economy!”

The Washington Times columnist Cheryl K. Chumley posted a piece this morning, “Anthony Fauci goes nuts,” declaring:

The question on the table is whether 4,513 deaths due to coronavirus in the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands justifies closing down an entire country — its economy, schools, transportation systems, entertainment and more — for 30 days or more.

So when Fauci calls for a national order to keep every man, woman and child in America at home, behind closed doors, for the next 30 days or longer, he’s only suggesting the best course of action that, in his medical opinion, would keep his patients — whom he’s deemed to be all of America — safe and healthy, free of risks of catching the coronavirus.

But that doesn’t mean he’s right. That doesn’t mean his medical opinion ought to be taken as sacrosanct; all the other considerations — economic, political, social — tossed to the side as secondaries. 

Americans are not lab rats, and America is not a science lab.

The country can’t come to a grinding halt every time flu season approaches.

The Federalist, already one of the most irresponsible outlets for conservative thought on the pandemic, posted a piece today titled “We Cannot Destroy The Country For The Sake Of New York City.” Never mind the fact that red states such as Florida, Ohio, Louisiana, and Indiana are also grappling with this pandemic, as well.