As of May 13, more than 81,000 Americans have reportedly died from COVID-19. Yet Fox News personalities have been questioning the death count or minimizing the mortality rate since the early days of the pandemic.
The reality, of course, contradicts Fox’s harmful narrative. In fact, significant evidence suggests that the death toll has been seriously undercounted. A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study released May 11 reportedly shows that New York City alone may have had nearly 5,300 more deaths than the official tally shows. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during his May 12 testimony to the Senate that the nationwide death toll is “almost certainly” higher than the 80,000 that had been reported. And Bob Anderson, who leads the Mortality Statistics Branch in the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, told The Daily Beast in a May 13 article that “we’re almost certainly underestimating the number of deaths” in America.
President Donald Trump has publicly stated that he trusts the accuracy of America’s reported death toll. But since early May, some news organizations have reported that Trump may soon begin to publicly question the number of COVID-19 deaths, as it reflects quite poorly on his presidency going into November’s election. On May 6, Axios reported, “President Trump has complained to advisers about the way coronavirus deaths are being calculated, suggesting the real numbers are actually lower — and a number of his senior aides share this view.” On May 9, The New York Times also reported that “according to administration officials, Mr. Trump has begun privately questioning the models and the official death statistics.” And on May 13, The Daily Beast reported that Trump and Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, are pushing CDC officials to “change how the agency works with states to count coronavirus-related deaths” in a way “that could lead to far fewer deaths being counted than originally reported.”
The Times article and other reporting also note that Trump’s conservative media allies have already been questioning America’s high death toll from the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, Fox News hosts and others who appear on the president’s favorite cable network, which has directly influenced his response to the crisis, have already been claiming for weeks that the death toll is inflated.
- On March 30, Fox host Mark Levin said on his BlazeTV show, “I cannot find anywhere the definition of what it means to die from this virus,” suggesting that people who die with comorbidities should not be counted as coronavirus deaths.
- On April 1, Fox senior political analyst Brit Hume claimed on Twitter that “NY's Covid 19 fatality numbers are inflated” because “they don’t distinguish between those who die with the disease and those who die from it.”
- Also on April 1, Fox host Laura Ingraham called attention to Italy’s reclassification of some coronavirus deaths from comorbidities to suggest America’s death toll wasn’t accurate.
- In an April 7 appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Hume suggested that “we’re probably not going to have an accurate count of … what the real death total is” because “all deaths from anyone who died with coronavirus is counted as if the person died from coronavirus.” Host Tucker Carlson agreed, saying that “there may be reasons that people seek an inaccurate death count” and later adding that “when journalists work with numbers, there sometimes is an agenda, unfortunately.”
- On April 8, Fox anchor Harris Faulkner downplayed the then death toll of 13,000: “How many of those people had other health risks at play, though? And maybe it wasn't, in fact, COVID-19 that caused their death.”
- Also on April 8, Ingraham hosted Republican Minnesota lawmaker Dr. Scott Jensen, who alleged that the CDC was helping “massage and sort of game the numbers” because of its guidance on death certificates for COVID-19 during the pandemic.
- On April 23 through 28, multiple people on Fox used data from unreliable antibody testing to claim the COVID-19 death rate is much lower than reported:
- Fox host Sean Hannity said, “If those numbers hold and are accurate, the coronavirus death rate in New York would be ... 0.58%.”
- Fox Business host Lou Dobbs said that in New York, “the death rate appears to be 0.5%.”
- Fox’s chief breaking news correspondent, Trace Gallagher, said the result of antibody studies in New York, California, and Florida “puts the fatality rate at about 0.1%, drastically lower than previous estimates.”
- Fox medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel said that “the death rate, especially, is way much lower than what we thought it was.”
- On Fox & Friends, guest Dr. Mehmet Oz said of antibody testing in New York: “You've got a mortality that's more like half a percent versus what we had been facing.”
- Carlson joined in by claiming, “In New York, that [death] rate went from 7.4%, which is devastating, to 0.5% which is not.”
- On April 28, Ingraham again hosted Jensen to question the CDC’s guidance on classifying coronavirus deaths and repeated his claim that the policy is “ridiculous and could be misleading the public.”
- During the same show, Ingraham also suggested New York City flu deaths were being misclassified as coronavirus deaths, saying “that would erode the public's trust in the ‘experts.’”
- Also on April 28, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said: “There's some scrutiny now about the number of people who have died and it being blamed on the coronavirus.” A pair of on-screen graphics during this segment also suggested the coronavirus death toll was being inflated.
- On May 1, Hannity used his radio show to push conservative activist James O’Keefe’s conspiracy theory video saying coronavirus deaths are being inflated by New York authorities to get more funding, adding, “We might want to know what the true numbers are. Just a thought on my part.”
- On May 3, right-wing celebrities Kevin and Sam Sorbo on Fox & Friends Weekend pushed the false claim that the CDC “revised their death tolls” down by nearly half.
- On May 4, Ingraham also pushed this false claim on Twitter.
- Also on May 4, Ingraham on her Fox show criticized the addition of presumptive coronavirus deaths to the death toll, sarcastically saying: “Ahh, retrospectively adding deaths to the COVID count. No issues there, I’m sure. No issues with accuracy.”
- On May 6, Fox's The Five co-host Jesse Watters claimed a Stanford University study “revised the mortality rate for this disease to like 0.1%.”
Fox’s messaging is already working to mislead people. A poll conducted mid-April showed that a plurality of Fox viewers -- 45% of frequent viewers and 37% of occasional viewers -- believe that fewer Americans have died of COVID-19 than official reports say. The poll also found that a majority of Americans who never watch Fox, 59%, say more people have died than reported -- a clear indicator that Fox’s misinformation is wrongly convincing viewers that the COVID-19 death toll has been inflated.