Widespread testing for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is crucial to understanding and responding to the pandemic. Testing data shows where it has spread, how rapidly, and who is the most vulnerable to the disease, and charting a safe and rapid path away from shelter-in-place policies is impossible without this information. Nevertheless, Fox News, dedicated to putting a pro-Trump spin on every issue regardless of science or truth, finds itself in a position where it must attack the very idea of widespread testing in order to protect its key audience of one: President Donald Trump.
It took until nearly three months into the coronavirus pandemic for the Trump administration to put forth a strategic national plan for testing, and it mostly consisted of delegating the responsibility to state governments while committing the absolute bare minimum in federal aid. Experts told The New York Times that the level of testing the Health and Human Services Department suggests is appropriate for reopening -- 300,000 people a day -- is dramatically lower than what is needed in the reality on the ground. A recent study from National Public Radio found that the administration's promise to put COVID testing sites in retail stores across the country has been underwhelming at best. And state governors, left out to dry by the Trump administration, have resorted to sometimes dramatic methods of acquiring enough tests for their constituents. The Trump administration’s report also directs states to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has fumbled testing since the early days of the crisis and has yet to demonstrate that the agency is up to the task.
Even a limited approach to testing focused on high-risk communities such as nursing homes and meat processing facilities, where people have been devastated by COVID-19, would require a massive investment from the federal government. The American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living estimate that testing every U.S. nursing home resident and staff member just once would cost $440 million. In order to safely move forward with reopening the country, high-risk communities and outbreak clusters would need to be tested on a regular basis, as the timing of COVID testing has proven to be crucially important in understanding the outbreak. And the testing infrastructure that does already exist may leave out the most vulnerable -- a recent investigation by NPR “found that in four out of six of the largest cities in Texas, testing sites are disproportionately located in whiter neighborhoods,” while the virus has disproportionately impacted Black people.
Instead of addressing these massive challenges by simply reporting on them in a straightforward way, Fox News is spinning the United States’ failure to widely test its citizens by arguing that mass testing is simply unnecessary, and claiming that implementing such a policy is “impossible” or “ridiculous” -- as well as inventing an anti-Trump, anti-capitalist conspiracy of Democrats and the media to blame for the failures of widespread testing.
Fox News: Testing is unnecessary
In a lengthy monologue on April 19, Fox host Steve Hilton called for states to reopen their economy without an increase in testing, saying that “we can't hide from” coronavirus and “we must learn to live with it.”
Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy suggested to Dr. Mehmet Oz on April 21 that a recent California antibody study meant there was no need for widespread coronavirus testing in order to ease restrictions. These antibody tests are unreliable, and the CDC has issued guidance saying they should not be relied upon to make public policy decisions.
On May 10, Fox & Friends co-host Pete Hegseth downplayed the need for testing, saying that “data can be the type of thing that leaders can also manipulate as we try to get forward and past this.”
GRIFF JENKINS (FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT): I was going to say, there may be the need for a new kind of lawmaker. And I'll tell you someone who would be very interesting if they got elected to Congress, and that is Tesla's founder and CEO, Elon Musk, who has been in the midst of the pandemic making a lot of noise.
PETE HEGSETH (CO-HOST): Data is a pesky thing too. Because what if we start testing more and as a result of more testing we find more positives? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? And if the leaders say we have more positive tests, therefore, we need to delay even further -- that doesn't make sense to people. Maybe those are the same amount of people that had it before. We just weren't testing. So data can be the type of thing that leaders can also manipulate as we try to get forward and past this. [Fox News, Fox & Friends Weekend, 5/10/20]
Fox contributor Dan Bongino criticized “the uselessness of mass testing outside of limited scenarios.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 5/13/20]
On May 12, Fox host Laura Ingraham attacked the “obsession” with coronavirus testing as “a common refrain from the left,” while her guest dismissed it: “There are so many issues with testing that it’s clearly not a metric.”
LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): “Testing, testing, testing,” a common refrain from the left, but that's not necessarily the best way out of this, is it? For example, Washington went ballistic when the head of the National Guard tested positive for COVID shortly before a scheduled meeting with the president. Two subsequent tests, however, including one today, gave him negative results. So why is this happening? Joining me now is my medicine cabinet, Dr. Steven Smith, founder of the Smith Center for Infectious Diseases and Urban Health, and Dr. Ramin Oskoui, cardiologist and CEO of Foxhall Cardiology. We have a lot of issues to get to. Dr. Oskoui, we will start with you. Does this reveal, in part, just little anecdote, the folly of this obsession with testing?
DR. RAMIN OSKOUI: Oh, I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine that you go to work and you test positive. You feel fine, you have no symptoms whatsoever, and your employer says go away, you can’t come back until you’ve tested negative. You have to self-quarantine without pay. How do you appeal that? What are the false negatives and the false positives of these tests? We really don’t know, and a lot of it has to do in some cases with how the test is administered. … There are so many issues with testing that it’s clearly not a metric. The only testing we should do at this point is strain testing, trying to follow the various strains and get a sense of where things are headed in terms of lethality. [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 5/12/20]
Fox News: Widespread testing is “impossible” and “totally ridiculous”
Speaking to Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY) on April 13, Ingraham claimed that testing levels suggested by experts are not realistic and are stopping Americans from exercising civil liberties.
LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): We’re thinking of tracking Americans who have -- or having some database which ultimately could lead to contact tracing, and some of it sounds maybe plausible. But we’re talking about, to reopen the country, according to some of the “experts” we’d need to test 6-7 million people in these various tests per week. I think we’re doing, what, 200,000, is that right? Is that correct? Correct me if I’m wrong but we have to set metrics for reopening the country that are realistic, not continuing to move the goalposts on when Americans can actually exercise their civil liberties and make a decent darn living. [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 4/13/20]
Appearing on the April 21 episode of Outnumbered, Hilton said basing safe reopening on testing is a form of “emerging groupthink” that would be “impossible.”
STEVE HILTON (FOX HOST): This is the shutdown on a global scale. And that is why, again, just as we were discussing before, of course we try and handle the situation in the moment. But the real solution is to open up the world economy as soon as safely possible. And to that end, I think we really need to take on this emerging groupthink that I'm seeing all around the world. Which is that the only way you can safely reopen is through widespread testing. You hear it the whole time: Testing, testing, testing. Testing, isolating, contact tracing. Because of the new data, because of the new science, it's impossible, we now know, to do that on the scale. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 4/21/20]
Fox medical contributor Dr. Nicole Saphier: “The truth is ubiquitous testing may not be realistic in the short term.”
DR. NICOLE SAPHIER (FOX MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR): We have warned that the long-term economic consequences may far outlast that of the virus itself, which is why people are starting to get restless and they are saying, “OK, we understand this virus a lot more now, we have a lot more information, and now is the time for us to get back to work.” My biggest concern right now, Ainsley, is that people keep saying it's all about testing, testing, testing, but the truth is there is not one magic answer to get things back to good. The truth is ubiquitous testing may not be realistic in the short term. That being said, there are also false negatives and false positives with these tests. And we don't even know at this point if the presence of an antibody circulating in your bloodstream actually means that someone is going to be immune to it. So we don't have that information. But we can't sit and wait for that information because, as we see, we have people waiting in lines trying to get money, trying to get food. This is not what our nation is about, and we have to do what we can to safely get people back to work and get our economy back up again. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/21/20]
On April 21, Ingraham mocked the suggestion from experts that millions of tests per day are needed: “Oh, that’s realistic.”
Appearing on the April 24 edition of Fox Business’ Varney & Co., Hilton said: “The idea that you can test them all, trace their contacts, isolate everyone who has the virus, is totally ridiculous.”
Hilton: “Widespread testing, contact tracing, and isolating” is “idiotic, unscientific, reckless establishment groupthink.”
STEVE HILTON (HOST): We know who's most vulnerable and how to protect them. Twenty percent of U.S. coronavirus deaths are in nursing homes. In some states, it's over half. So, what are our leaders doing about that? They're making it worse.
For weeks, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, instead of sending nursing home coronavirus patients to the nearly empty Navy hospital ship, sent them back into nursing homes. With that one demented decision, he is responsible for a big part of America's death toll.
We know who's at risk and how to protect them. Why aren't our leaders surging medical capacity and equipment to our nursing homes and care facilities where the greatest generation is so obviously vulnerable?
I'll tell you why. Because they're too busy putting sand in skate parks, flying creepy surveillance drones, and worst of all, hiring armies of busy body contact traitors to implement this idiotic, unscientific, reckless establishment groupthink that the only way we can open up is widespread testing, contact tracing, and isolating.
MSNBC had a two-hour special this week entirely based on this misinformation. It was literally called “Testing and the Road to Reopening.” Testing, contact tracing, and isolating are great if you're trying to contain an outbreak at the start, where you have hundreds of cases.
It is totally absurd after a pandemic with millions infected where you'll miss most of them anyway because they have no symptoms. And the absurdity rises to a level of grave danger if you're making this a condition for reopening, knowing that every day you delay will kill more Americans.
Last week, we set out questions for Dr. Fauci. Well, he may not care about being accountable to you, but our state and local leaders do listen to him. He's the one that started this nonsense, still using an old playbook even though the facts have changed. I beg you, Dr. Fauci, tell the governors, tell the mayors how to protect the vulnerable in our nursing homes who are dying in droves because of inadequate infection control.
Tell them that if we properly protect the vulnerable, we don't need the costly, complicated, technocratic nightmare of testing and contact tracing. And tell the American people, so terrified by months of misinformation that many are scared to go out even if states do reopen, tell them that most Americans, according to the data, have nothing to fear from coronavirus, that there is no scientific basis, as long as we properly protect the vulnerable, for this shutdown.
The mindset of the shutdown zealots is the opposite of science. Instead of adapting their thinking in the light of new information, they cling to their old position, despite new information. It's not science, it's ideology. It's not based on data, but dogma.
Dr. Fauci, tell the world that based on the data, based on the science, we must protect the vulnerable, end the shutdown, and save lives now. Please help us tell Dr. Fauci and the rest of the world by sharing this when we post it tonight. [Fox News, The Next Revolution, 4/26/20]
Fox News: The lack of widespread testing is the fault of Democrats and the media
Ingraham on May 15: Requiring mass testing for reopening is like asking for “a purple unicorn on every street corner,” and Democrats “prefer us to cower and crouch in our houses.”
Fox contributor Lisa Boothe: “The media,” not lack of testing or contact tracing, is “the biggest barrier we have to reopening.”
STEVE HILTON (HOST): Alright, Lisa, I just want to start with you. I want to pick up on one of the points that I made at the beginning which was about this groupthink that feels really solidly in place now, which you hear all over the place, which is the only way we can reopen is widespread testing, isolating, contact tracing. What do you make of all of that?
LISA BOOTHE (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): Well, I think as you laid out, the biggest barrier we have to reopening is the media. They're the ones that are driving hysteria around the coronavirus. We've even seen sort of an omission or a downplaying about positive data points, positive information that could potentially lead to the reopening.
We've also seen zero interest in the media for questioning if -- are these policies even the right ones we should be making? Should we be shutting down right now? What are the consequences of that? Has it led to a positive effect or not? Where will we be if we didn't shut down? They're not raising these kinds of critical questions which I find troubling.
Further, we've also seen just a distortion of the facts. I mean, you look at what they've done to President Trump, blaming him for a guy taking fish tank cleaner? And somehow he's responsible for his death for, you know, saying the positive things or at least being hopeful about hydroxychloroquine.
And we've even seen a tremendous amount of bias going after Gov. Kemp for reopening Georgia's economy while ignoring the fact that Gov. Polis, a liberal Democrat in Colorado, is opening retail May 1.
So, the media is a big obstacle in trying to reopen the economy and get the actual truth out there to the American people. [Fox News, The Next Revolution, 4/26/20]