Fox News coronavirus misinformation
Molly Butler / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Fox News pushed coronavirus misinformation 253 times in just five days

  • Fox News repeated coronavirus misinformation 253 times in its weekday coverage from July 6 through 10, including claims that undermined scientific research about the pandemic, eroded trust in public health experts and policy recommendations, called for reopening schools and businesses without regard to public health precautions, and politicized the country’s response to the virus.

    This avalanche of misinformation comes on the heels of a report from Yahoo News earlier this month claiming that Fox’s messaging on the coronavirus was undergoing a “remarkable turn” from its earlier coverage to “acknowledge ... that the coronavirus is a far graver threat.” As this report will show, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

  • From July 6-10, Fox News pushed coronavirus misinformation 253 times:

    • Nearly half of Fox’s coronavirus misinformation was about the science of coronavirus and health recommendations from experts (115 instances).
    • Fox politicized recommended public health measures, such as face masks usage and business closures, 63 times.
    • Fox emphasized the economy and reopening schools 46 times despite public health concerns.
    • Fox’s The Ingraham Angle was responsible for a quarter of all coronavirus misinformation on the network.
    • Fox’s “straight news” shows accounted for more than one-third of all coronavirus misinformation.
  • Instances of coronavirus misinformation on Fox News in five days
  • In a mere five days, the network managed to misinform about the science of the virus 115 times. These include claims about specific coronavirus data, such as arguing that increased testing explains the rising positivity rate (it doesn’t), suggesting that the mortality rate is the most or only important statistic (it isn’t), and dismissing the recent rise in new cases. Fox pushed these and other misinformation about coronavirus data 40 times.

  • Video file

    Citation From the July 6, 2020, edition of The Five

  • Also included in that category are claims dismissing the effectiveness of public health measures like stay-at-home orders, wearing masks, social distancing, contact tracing, testing, and business closures (made 18 times); claims downplaying the severity of the virus (13 times); claims eroding trust in public health experts (15 times); and claims promoting or defending unproven COVID-19 treatments like hydroxychloroquine (18 times).

  • Video file

    Citation From the July 7, 2020, edition of Outnumbered Overtime with Harris Faulkner

  • Fox also politicized the response to the coronavirus 63 times in the week studied. These instances include 51 claims suggesting that public health precautions such as mask requirements and business closures are politically motivated or implemented. There were also 10 claims directly connecting recent protests against police brutality to the recent surge in new coronavirus cases (it’s not).

  • Video file

    Citation From the July 9, 2020, edition of The Ingraham Angle

  • Fox emphasized reopening the economy over continuing public health measures 46 times during the week of July 6. As President Donald Trump waded into the national discussion about how to safely reopen schools for students and faculty with demands that “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” (emphasis in original tweet), Fox pushed for school reopenings 34 times despite public health concerns. While some studies suggest that children are less likely to contract and transmit the virus, not all experts agree that we have a complete picture of how the coronavirus interacts with children, and concern over the health risks for teachers and other faculty remains an unanswered piece of the puzzle.

    Since the Trump administration and Fox News latched on to guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding school reopenings, the organization has clarified its statement to include the observation that “reopening schools in a way that maximizes safety, learning, and the well-being of children, teachers, and staff will clearly require substantial new investments in our schools and campuses.” The addendum was a clear attempt at distancing the organization from threats by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos that schools that failed to reopen with “students physically present” would face funding cuts.

    In another 10 instances, Fox pushed to reopen businesses and the economy in general over the recommendation of public health officials.

  • Video file

    Citation From the July 8, 2020, edition of Fox & Friends

  • Fox host Laura Ingraham and her prime-time show The Ingraham Angle traded in coronavirus misinformation far more often than other Fox personalities and shows during the week of July 6. Ingraham herself pushed coronavirus misinformation 38 times, which included 21 instances of undermining and misrepresenting the science on the coronavirus and 13 instances of politicizing the response to the pandemic. Fox personalities and guests on The Ingraham Angle were responsible for an astonishing 63 instances of misinformation.

  • Video file

    Citation From the July 7, 2020, edition of The Ingraham Angle

  • The next top misinformer was the network’s flagship morning show, Fox & Friends, with 45 instances of coronavirus misinformation. The rest of Fox’s prime-time line-up followed: Hannity misinformed 21 times, and Tucker Carlson Tonight misinformed 20 times.

    Of the network’s “straight news” shows, anchor Martha MacCallum’s The Story broadcast the most coronavirus misinformation with 20 instances. Overall, the newsier side of Fox was responsible for 35% of all coronavirus misinformation on the network during the week of July 6.

  • Instances of coronavirus misinformation on Fox News shows in five days
  • Fox’s continued misinformation comes as the country is facing a massive spike in new coronavirus cases. In the last 11 days, the U.S. has set seven records for the highest daily number of new cases, reaching a high of more than 68,000 on July 10, according to The New York Times’ coronavirus map and case count. Cases have surged across the southern and western U.S. in states like California, Arizona, Florida, and Texas, where ICU beds, ventilators, and even health care staff are running low.

    In response, many states are beginning to rollback executed and planned reopenings. California’s governor has ordered restaurants, bars, museums, zoos, and movie theaters to close. Likewise, Arizona has shuttered bars, gyms, movie theaters, and water parks. And yet, on July 13, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs asked, “What in hell is going on” as “we're starting to see closure[s] again,” while Fox medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel criticized such actions as “not consistent,” calling it “punitive” and “draconian” public health policy.

    Fox has argued against stay-at-home orders and business closures even though evidence shows that shutdowns likely averted up to 60 million infections in the U.S. The network at times even continues to argue against the efficacy of wearing masks, with host Tucker Carlson claiming “there is no evidence” that masks help stop the spread of the coronavirus. This explicitly goes against the World Health Organization’s and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations of mask use for the general public to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

    Amid six different public polls showing that Fox viewers are woefully -- and dangerously -- misinformed regarding the coronavirus, these recent events illustrate the real-world consequences of Fox’s continued broadcasting of coronavirus misinformation that downplays the threat of the virus, dismisses the recommendations of public health officials, and misrepresents the scientific consensus on the disease.

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for any of the terms “COVID,” “COVID-19,” “coronavirus,” “virus,” “pandemic,” or “outbreak” on Fox News Channel from July 6 through July 10, 2020, from 6 a.m. to midnight EDT each day. We then reviewed the results for any discussion about the coronavirus and coded for misinformation that fit the three main categories:

    1. Claims or statements that undermined the scientific understanding of the coronavirus or the impact of public health policy or dismissed the policy recommendations from public health experts
    2. Claims or statements that valued the economy over public health
    3. Claims or statements that politicized the coronavirus

    We also coded claims or statements that fell outside our three main categories. These fell into two areas that we grouped into a single measure: claims or statements that defended falsehoods or lies about the coronavirus pandemic that originated from President Donald Trump or his administration and claims or statements that promoted conspiracy theories regarding the spread and origin of the coronavirus.

    Claims undermining the science or dismissing public health experts or recommendations included statements that dismissed data on the coronavirus, including cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and spread; dismissed the effectiveness of public health measures; dismissed the severity of the virus; eroded the trust in public health officials; promoted the efficacy of unproven drug treatments like hydroxychloroquine; or misrepresented the basic scientific consensus on how the virus spreads and infects.

    Claims valuing the economy over public health included statements that emphasized the economic impact of the virus or health measures to prevent its spread over public health concerns, or that pushed to reopen the economy or schools despite the recommended public health precautions.

    Claims that politicized the virus included statements that suggested a political party, public figure, or ideological organization was using the pandemic to promote or advance a political goal; suggested public health measures are partisanly motivated or implemented; or mocked a political party, public figure, or ideological organization for promoting or advocating for any public health measure implemented to combat coronavirus.

    We coded any claim or statement that met our criteria as misinformation about the coronavirus. We counted a claim or statement as a single, uninterrupted block of speech. A single claim or statement could meet the criteria for more than one category.