Fox News and pro-Trump media did everything they could for weeks to downplay the threat of coronavirus

Some in right-wing media may be starting to take the global pandemic seriously, but not before endangering people's lives with reckless coverage

As the global impact of COVID-19 worsens, conservative media are taking their cue from President Donald Trump and finally begin taking the threat of coronavirus seriously. While thoughtful, fact-based reporting is certainly good for society, it cannot be overlooked that right-wing media’s notably reckless efforts over the last few weeks to downplay coronavirus have endangered people’s lives. 

Trump’s tone toward the coronavirus pandemic markedly shifted this week, moving away from dismissing the outbreak as another supposed media attempt to destroy his presidency -- with reality perhaps finally becoming undeniable for a president who often relies on constructing an alternative version. 

The clear shift in Trump’s narrative put much of conservative media in a difficult position, as Trump’s defenders have spent the last several weeks following his lead by downplaying the impact of coronavirus in order to shield the president from any political blowback. Some right-wing media personalities, such as Fox’s Jesse Watters and Newt Gingrich, have even admitted that they were slow to take the threat of the virus seriously. 

As reality forces right-wing media figures to cover COVID-19 honestly, it's important to remember that their reflexive efforts to downplay measures to combat coronavirus as a conspiracy by Democrats and the media to hurt Trump have already done lasting damage and endangered people’s lives. Polls have shown that Democrats are far more likely to take coronavirus seriously than Republicans, and this is partially attributed to the stark difference in signals from various media outlets about the virus.

Here are just some of the most egregious examples of conservative media downplaying the threat of coronavirus over the last several weeks:  


  • On March 15, Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo agreed with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) when he said that “if you're healthy, you and your family, it's a great time to just go out, go to a local restaurant” -- despite reports that individuals who appear healthy can still carry and pass on the virus. 

  • Conservative talk radio giant Rush Limbaugh complained on March 13 that “we’re shutting down our country” because of “the cold virus, which is what coronaviruses are.” 

  • On the March 13 edition of Fox & Friends, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. said that it’s “strange” that so many people are “overreacting,” suggesting coronavirus precautions are “political” and likening it to the Mueller investigation. Falwell then suggested that coronavirus could be a bioweapon unleashed by North Korea working with China. 

  • Also on March 13, Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt claimed that “it’s actually the safest time to fly.” 

  • The Federalist published a March 11 article claiming that the media's coronavirus “hysteria stokes public panic.” 

  • On the March 11 edition of his radio show, Fox News prime-time host Sean Hannity argued that he isn’t concerned about coronavirus because “we’re all dying.” 

  • The same day, Hannity also advised listeners of his radio show to ignore any advice Democrats or other media outlets give about staying safe during COVID-19, declaring that “everything now has to be viewed through the prism of, oh, this is about the election.

  • On March 11, Limbaugh said that “coronavirus has been weaponized by the media and by opponents of Donald Trump as the latest weapon they might be able to use to get rid of him or to damage his political standing.” He later claimed that “medical professionals seem to be the least panicked of anybody”, adding “It’s almost as if the media and the left and the Democrats want to inflict damage on our economy.” 

  • Also on the March 11 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh said: “Who cares if it’s 10 times more lethal than the flu,” asking, “Does lethal infect you? Does lethal give you a temperature of 102 versus 100? What does it do to you? It’s a meaningless comparative.”

  • That same day, Limbaugh further claimed that coronavirus is like the common cold, and “all of this panic is just not warranted.”

  • On the March 10 his radio show, Limbaugh compared coronavirus to a hurricane, calling it “exaggerated and built-up, lied about before anybody knows its true strength and nature.”

  • On the March 10 edition of his Fox show, Hannity attempted to minimize coronavirus concerns by comparing it to gun violence statistics in Chicago.

  • Also on March 10, Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren tried to deflect the threat of coronavirus by complaining about homelessness in California, saying that she is “far more concerned with stepping on a used heroin needle than … getting the coronavirus.”

  • And on the March 10 edition of Fox News' America’s Newsroom co-anchor Ed Henry noted that Florida’s first coronavirus deaths were elderly people who traveled, claiming that “when you hear the context, it is not quite as scary.”

  • Fox Business host Charles Payne dismissed coronavirus’s impact because “last week, Broadway attendance went up” and “movie receipts were normal.” Payne warned in the March 10 Fox & Friends appearance that “we don’t need to talk ourselves into a recession or let anyone else with ulterior motives talk us into a recession.” 

  • Conservative historian Victor Davis Hanson published an op-ed in The Washington Times on March 11 arguing that “coronavirus' reputation is likely far scarier than its reality.” 

Early March

  • Throughout the beginning of March, many Fox News personalities kept insisting to their viewers that coronavirus is no more dangerous than the flu, despite clear evidence that COVID-19 is far more deadly than the flu. 

  • In early March, Newsmax told its older-leaning audience to avoid a future coronavirus vaccine and instead pay for something “far more effective” -- buying a scammy book and newsletter subscription.

  • On the March 9 edition of his Fox show, Hannity claimed people are faking concern about coronavirus to “bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.”

  • In a fearmongering, over-the-top opening monologue on March 9, Fox Business host Trish Regan claimed coronavirus is “yet another attempt to impeach” Trump as “the chorus of hate being leveled at the president is nearing a crescendo.” 

  • On March 9, Fox News host Laura Ingraham commented that the “panic pushers” in the media “went into overdrive” before berating members of the media for expressing concern. 

  • On March 9, after reporting that 113,000 people in 111 countries and territories have been infected by coronavirus, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs attacked the media for “playing up fears” and overhyping the threat.

  • On the March 9 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh argued that Democrats only wanted Trump to stop holding rallies because Democratic voters were attending, not because of coronavirus.

  • The Washington Times published a March 9 op-ed titled: “Please stop the coronavirus hysteria. Now.” The article recommended that people “substitute prayer for the COVID-19 panic.”

  • Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire highlighted in a March 9 article other comments by Dr. Drew Pinsky claiming that media outlets are “hurting people” and “need to be held accountable” for causing panic around coronavirus. 

  • On March 8, Fox News host Pete Hegseth said that “the more I learn about [coronavirus], the less there is to worry about.”

  • Fox News host Jeanine Pirro compared coronavirus to the flu on March 7, explaining that the death rate of COVID-19 is only higher because there is a flu vaccine, saying that “all the talk about coronavirus being so much more deadly doesn't reflect reality. Without a vaccine, the flu would be far more deadly.” 

  • On the March 6 edition of Hannity, Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel said that the “worst case scenario” for coronavirus is “it could be the flu.”

  • Appearing on Fox Business that same day, Siegel also claimed that coronavirus concerns are being intentionally overblown to hurt Trump politically.

  • In another March 6 Fox News appearance, Siegel attacked the World Health Organization (WHO) for warning about coronavirus, calling the WHO “a bunch of alarmists” and “saber rattlers” and arguing that “there's no reason to believe [COVID-19 is] actually more problematic or deadly than influenza.”

  • Fox Nation host Tammy Bruce authored a March 5 op-ed in The Washington Times claiming that “false, fear-based narratives” are “driv[ing] coronavirus panic.” 

  • On the March 4 edition of The Ingraham Angle, Fox guest Dr. Ramin Oskoui dismissed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as “highly politicized” because of “how they’ve acted on gun control.” 

  • On March 3, Fox host Jesse Watters argued that “the power of positive thinking” can beat coronavirus. Watters then patted himself on the back for sitting next to an Asian man on the subway without harassing him before going home and eating Chinese food.  

  • On March 2, Hannity used his radio show to say that Trump’s opponents “are hoping Americans die and get sick and that we all lose a fortune in the stock market” in order to defeat his reelection campaign.

  • Also on March 2, Hannity tried to deflect from coronavirus by lying about former President Barack Obama’s 2009 response to H1N1, commonly known as swine flu.

  • The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh authored a March 2 article arguing that the “media hype” around COVID-19 is “overblown,” but later admitted his coronavirus commentary was “embarrassing” and said he “knew almost nothing about” the disease. 

  • On March 1, The Daily Wire covered other comments by Dr. Drew Pinsky in which he said that the media “needs to shut up” about coronavirus “because you’re more likely to die of influenza right now.” 

Late February

  • Throughout late February, many Fox News personalities relentlessly tried to pivot the conversation away from the potential dangers of coronavirus and the Trump administration’s mishandling of the pandemic by instead attacking Democrats and the media. 

  • In late February, Limbaugh and others in pro-Trump media initially argued that the CDC is overhyping the coronavirus threat because a top official there is related to former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a key figure in the conservative “deep state” conspiracy theory. 

  • And after the stock market plunged in late February due in part to the global impact of coronavirus, several Fox News personalities tried to shift the focus to blaming Sen. Bernie Sanders.

  • On February 29, Fox News’ Cavuto Live hosted a passenger from the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship on which hundreds of people contracted COVID-19, to tell viewers that coronavirus is overhyped because he and his wife were not symptomatic. 

  • After Trump referred to coronavirus as a “hoax” at his February 28 rally, the hosts of Fox & Friends Weekend agreed that coronavirus was an effort to take him down, similar to the Mueller report and impeachment.

  • On the February 28 edition of Fox & Friends, Hegseth speculated that Democrats and the media are “rooting for coronavirus to spread.”

  • On February 28, Fox anchor Harris Faulkner suggested that criticizing the administration's response to coronavirus is “feeding hysteria.”

  • Fox anchor Sandra Smith conceded on February 28 that “there’s speculation [coronavirus] could get worse,” but added that “some say, like the president, it could miraculously disappear.” (The CDC has appeared to contradict this claim, and there’s no concrete evidence to support Trump’s idea that the virus will “miraculously disappear.”)  

  • Ingraham claimed on the February 27 edition of her show that people were only criticizing the appointment of Vice President Mike Pence to lead the coronavirus response because “he’s not a liberal.”

  • On the February 26 edition of his radio show, Fox News host Mark Levin said that Democrats’ response to the pandemic is “diabolical,” accusing the party of having a long history of “using health issues to create health scares.” Levin cited the Ebola virus as an example.

  • On the February 25 edition of her Fox show, Ingraham claimed China is using coronavirus to “hurt Trump in his reelection.”

  • On February 25, Limbaugh openly mocked concerns over the coronavirus, saying that COVID-19 is “the new Russians.”

  • In the same show, Limbaugh argued that mainstream media want coronavirus to be deadly, just like “they hope for hurricanes … so they can say ‘climate change,’ anything to advance the leftist agenda.”

  • On February 24, Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson blamed “diversity” and “wokeness” for the spread of coronavirus, declaring that “identity politics trumped public health” and said it is a cult that “would let you die before they admitted that diversity is not our strength.” Later, Carlson chastised members of the media who he said “have spent weeks minimizing what is clearly a very serious problem.” 

  • Also on February 24, just as the outbreak emerged as a dominant story in the U.S. news media, Limbaugh told his listeners, “The coronavirus is an effort to get Trump.”