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Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Laura Ingraham's coronavirus coverage has been a cesspool of misinformation — and a danger to public health

While many Fox News personalities have had a pernicious influence on the network’s ongoing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, Laura Ingraham's show has been a particular cesspool of dangerous medical misinformation, xenophobia, conspiracy theories, lies, and a denial of the crisis -- along with worship of President Donald Trump’s handling of that very crisis. 

On just the April 28 edition of her show, Ingraham delivered a lengthy opening monologue alleging that coronavirus-related death counts have been inflated — then claimed that reporters were allowing the inflated death counts in order to “keep this thing shut down” and hurt President Donald Trump. She then interviewed a doctor from a fringe right-wing group to protest restrictions that Arizona’s Republican governor had imposed on prescribing the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine for its unproven treatment of COVID-19.

Along with Fox colleague Sean Hannity, Ingraham has spread a variety of misinformation, both on her prime-time TV show and on her Twitter account. And she has sometimes enjoyed a direct line to Trump himself, while also hosting Republican members of Congress and other important political advisers.

According to Media Matters’ internal database, Ingraham first mentioned the virus in reporting on the spread in early January. She has gone on to air over 329 segments since discussing the virus. 

Meanwhile, Ingraham’s coverage has swung from one extreme to another — all of them bad. She first denied that there was even a crisis at all. Then, as she acknowledged the problem, she lashed out at immigrants, while insisting on Trump’s continued greatness. She has promoted dangerous, unproven treatments for the illness while opposing the shelter-in-place orders across the country and even encouraging defiance of them. She has further spoken against congressional relief and economic stimulus measures while claiming that Democrats are conspiring to enact a “socialist” agenda over the country.

Here’s a look at the kinds of COVID-19 misinformation that Ingraham has peddled.

  • Ingraham downplays coronavirus and attacks media: It’s just a scare campaign

    • On February 26, Ingraham said that as scary as the virus seemed, with images of hazmat suits in China and mass quarantines in Italy, “more unsettling is something happening right here in the United States — and it's not medical, it's political. Democrats and their media cronies have decided to weaponize fear and also weaponize suffering to improve their chances against Trump in November.”

    • On the same broadcast, Ingraham hosted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), to assure viewers that the Republicans and Trump were very well prepared to deal with this pandemic no matter what Democrats said. “They’re one of those teachers you had that only wants to put a red mark on your paper, instead of telling you whether you’re doing it right,” McCarthy said. “And the president has been preparing for this.”

    • On the February 28 edition of her show, Ingraham praised Trump’s comments at a campaign rally that politicizing the coronavirus was a media and Democratic hoax, saying Trump sees right through the media’s ulterior motives. Her guest Dinesh D’Souza said that the media are “feeding a panic” that had damaged the stock market and that “the Democrats are now relying on a flu virus” to help defeat Trump.

    • During a March 2 interview with Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar on her show, Ingraham brushed off the number of coronavirus deaths had occurred so far by comparing them to deaths during the flu season and accused the media of using the pandemic “to smear the administration in a number of ways.” She also hosted TV personality Dr. Drew Pinsky and asked him how much “damage” media were causing with their coverage. In response, Pinsky complained about the “panic” and “hysteria” around the pandemic, saying, “It’s here, it’s mild, and the press needs to shut up.”
       

    • On the March 9 edition of her show, Ingraham claimed the media were “panic pushers” against Trump — really just “a perfect storm — with a lot of bluster and hot air.” She also accused the media of “using the virus to attack the president’s health,” after Trump had been in contact with individuals who were potentially exposed to the virus at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference event. During the same show, she interviewed CPAC head Matt Schlapp — who was self-isolating after his own possible exposure — who said that “this virus is very hard to contract.”
       

    • On March 12, Ingraham hosted Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist and Tom Bevan of RealClearPolitics, who alleged that this was just another media campaign against Trump. “I think to the extent that they have any credibility, which is diminished clearly,” Ingraham said, “but to the extent they have any credibility, it doesn't add to anything except more panic, and more concern, and more upset.”

    • Ingraham claimed on March 27 that the media is upset that the coronavirus pandemic isn’t worse. “You get the sense that the media, ... some of them don't want things to go back to normal in the United States,” Ingraham said, claiming, “As the news comes in that might be slightly better than we thought — they're angrier and grumpier than they should be. It's odd.

    • Ingraham has also pushed the right-wing talking point that coronavirus death counts have been inflated. “Do we count someone who tests positive for the virus but died of pneumonia as a COVID death?” Ingraham said on April 3. “But what about someone who dies with symptoms of the disease, but was actually never tested? It's actually crucial information.” And then later on May 3, Ingraham tweeted the false claim that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had revised the number of actual coronavirus deaths in half.

    • Ingraham has also been a major proponent of the push to reopen the economy, using the projected deaths that have been revised downward because of the strong social distancing measures to say it means the projections were wrong in the first place. “And shouldn't this experience make us less willing to rely on the same experts to help determine when and how we should reopen our economy?” she said on April 7.

    • Ingraham again claimed on April 8 that the models projecting coronavirus-related deaths were wrong: “The projections here were not off by 10%, 15%, 20%. They were off by a factor of 33 from 2.2 million projected COVID deaths at the top, which was terrifying to a little bit more than 60,000 deaths projected today.” (As of May 6, total coronavirus-related deaths are now over 70,000.)

    • On April 16, Ingraham interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci and asked him why there was an intense focus on developing a COVID-19 vaccine when there wasn’t one for HIV or SARS. Fauci explained to her why COVID-19 was a different public health threat, to which Ingraham responded, “But we don't know; this could disappear.” 

    • On April 23, Ingraham was still insisting that COVID-19 was really just like the flu. “We were told the virus was far more lethal than the flu,” she said. “That was terrifying. Now we know it's likely to be closer to maybe a really aggressive flu season.”

    • Then on April 29, after Vice President Mike Pence was publicly shamed for not wearing a protective mask during his visit to the Mayo Clinic, Ingraham attacked the whole idea of mask-wearing as being itself just a scare campaign: “But the masks, well they're kind of a constant reminder. You see the mask and you think, you are not safe. You are not back to normal. Not even close.”

  • Ingraham resorts to xenophobia

    Ingraham also reverted to her own signature brand of xenophobia during her show and hosted guests who spouted similar xenophobic talking points.

    • During a segment on March 17 about ongoing legal disputes over Trump’s immigration and border policies, Ingraham warned, “It's not beyond conception that literally thousands will rush into Mexico and then try to get into the United States seeking medical care in the wake of this pandemic — and of course free medical care, because when they come here, they get free care.” She later said, “This could put the health of our Border Patrol agents in jeopardy and further work toward a collapse of our health care system.”

    • During a March 20 interview with Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Patrol, the Fox host and her guest extolled Trump’s efforts to shut down the southern border. “And this has to be a lesson for going forward. We don't need T.B. coming into the country,” Ingraham said. “These people ... are losing their jobs all over the country, we don't need a flood of new workers into America.”

    • On March 26, Ingraham said, “A lot of you are wondering why was Italy so hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak. It’s weird, right? Well, did you know 310,000 Chinese people now live in Italy, mainly in the north.” Ingraham hosted American Spectator writer Robert Stacy McCain said that “The key is that over the past 10 years, multiple media outlets have reported on the facts that Chinese workers and the Chinese-owned firms “have substantially taken over the fashion industry in northern Italy.”

    • D’Souza appeared on Ingraham’s show again on April 7, declaring: “The issue here is that as a country we owe debts and obligations to our fellow citizens, but not to others. And I think it's remarkable here that in a time of — that should be a time of national unity, we have this kind of attempt now to turn the tables, racialize the controversy, make the virus in effect racist, and then call for racially tailored solutions.”

    • Then on April 30, Ingraham retweeted an article by the white nationalist group VDare blaming workers from refugee communities for coronavirus hotspots in meatpacking plants, thus scapegoating particular groups of workers for the serious dangers within the plants themselves.

  • Ingraham and her guests insist on Trump’s greatness

    • On February 26, Ingraham hosted Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) who praised Trump for having imposed restrictions on travel to China as a preventative measure — even though it had very little in the way of decisive impact.

    • On March 2, Ingraham hosted Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, who proclaimed that Trump had taken “very aggressive actions, historically unprecedented actions, to protect the American people.”

    • On March 9, Ingraham hit back at Trump critics by declaring: “Let me just remind everybody that Donald Trump left a very successful company to go through the hell that he has had to go through of the last three years of investigations. But now he is selfish?”

    • On March 10, Ingraham delivered a meandering monologue in which she invoked the 2012 attack on American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, building up to this flowery praise of Trump’s leadership:

    LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): In times of crisis, it helps to have a president who makes his own decisions, who marshals the right resources, and surrounds himself with the most competent people to do the job. He doesn't give in to the bureaucracy, he bends it to be more nimble. He pushes obstacles out of the way and solves problems. He has a take-charge, hands-on approach to the coronavirus and every other problem he faces. He’ll work with Democrats on a legislative package to help working families. He’ll do for our emergency response system what he's done for our economy, make it stronger and better, day by day.

    • On the March 19 edition of her show, Ingraham bemoaned: “You know the pressure people are under to say, ‘OK, we got to all come together, we just got to work together, we have to do something.’ So it's always the people who are asking the questions are always vilified. If you ask a question about a lockdown, or write an editorial as they did in The [Wall Street] Journal today, basically saying, ‘Rethinking the Coronavirus Shutdown,’ I mean, you are vilified.”

    • On April 2, she said that the economic lockdown to fight coronavirus might “kill the patient, which is America.” Later in the same broadcast, she explained: “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.”

    • On April 7, she hosted Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore, who said that “the American economy, our $20 trillion economic engine, is in the intensive care unit right now.” Ingraham herself added: “We’ve got to protect lives but … these are all lives, I mean, there are lives on both sides here.”

    • Also on April 8, Ingraham tweeted a call for Trump to overrule his top medical experts, and have the country reopen on May 1:

    laura-ingraham-tweet-trump-tell-fauci-birx-reopen-04-08-2020.png
    • On March 10, Ingraham ridiculed the “deep panic” of people who were criticizing Trump for not getting tested.

    • On March 16, Ingraham claimed that some in the media were supposedly “enjoying this moment that has brought great inconvenience, disruption, and suffering to American workers and families, … because some people think it’s Trump’s downfall, and they’re cheering that on.” She continued, “Testing snags notwithstanding, Trump has mobilized an aggressive effort to tackle this.”

  • Ingraham hypes hydroxychloroquine

    Ingraham has been a prominent voice on Fox News for the untested usage of hydroxychloroquine, a drug normally used as an antimalarial, to treat coronavirus. In doing so, she became part of a chorus that influenced Trump’s own statements and actions on the matter.

    Furthermore, two out of the top three guests that Ingraham has featured to discuss coronavirus are promoters of the drug for the pandemic, Dr. Ramin Oskoui and Dr. Stephen Smith, who have appeared 13 times and ten times respectively. In early April, Ingraham reportedly met with Trump, along with Oskoui and Smith, to continue pushing the drug.

    From March 23 to May 6, Ingraham has discussed hydroxychloroquine in at least 51 segments on her show according to Media Matters’ internal database, often hosting guests to talk up its supposed therapeutic breakthroughs. But her claims never really matched up with the facts on the ground.

    • On March 19, Ingraham hyped that a patient had a “Lazarus” effect from use of hydroxychloroquine, after interviewing a doctor who had, in fact, inflated his own credentials. She also tweeted that a hospital in New York was regularly using the drug, and some doctors from that very hospital publicly denied that they were doing so. Twitter eventually took down her tweet for spreading misinformation.

    • On March 20, Ingraham praised Trump for pushing for hydroxychloroquine despite skepticism on the part of experts: “The president, as usual, has sharp instincts. He sees things that sometimes the intellectuals and the academics, they might get lost in some of the details, but he has sharp instincts about things. And he's pushing to get millions of doses now into the United States.”

    • On the March 30 edition of her show, Ingraham denounced “people who are still saying that drugs that are working right now — they don’t work on everybody, especially super, super-advanced people, but they’re working now — are still throwing cold water on therapies that seem like they could be really promising.” 

    • On April 3, Ingraham asked Oskoui if all patients should be put on hydroxychloroquine under their doctor’s supervision. (Oskoui’s answer was yes.)

    • Then on April 9, Ingraham publicly suggested that the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, should be fired for not strongly recommending the use of antimalarials for the coronavirus treatment.

    • When a Veterans Affairs study emerged showing hydroxychloroquine to have no beneficial effect — or possibly even causing more deaths — Ingraham responded on April 22 by attacking the study.

    • On April 29, Ingraham did a segment accusing Fauci and the National Institutes of Health of corruption and conflicts of interest for discussing preliminary study data showing beneficial treatment results from another drug, Remdesivir, after Fauci had declined to promote hydroxychloroquine.

    • On May 6, Ingraham called for Trump to overrule the warnings that have been issued against the use of hydroxychloroquine: “Time for the FDA, the president himself, to pull back on the misguided and unnecessary warning that was issued a few weeks ago.”

  • Ingraham opposes the lockdowns, incites resistance to them

    Ingraham has also been a staunch opponent of the mass lockdowns and economic disruptions from social distancing policies to fight the pandemic, calling in late February for basic hygiene instead and insisting on March 9 that quarantines won’t work in the United States.

    • On the March 10 edition of her show, Fox News medical correspondent Dr. Marc Siegel denounced the “paranoia” about the spread of coronavirus: “We don't need this fear of going outdoors. It's agoraphobia — they have a diagnosis for that.”

    • On March 11, Ingraham delivered a lengthy opening monologue against the new lockdowns, warning at the end:

    LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): Maybe closing all these schools, colleges, universities, weddings — I guess a honeymoon could still go on maybe. Maybe that's all warranted. Maybe canceling all these events, entire seasons of sports, all of it, maybe that's the prudent thing to do. And I suppose it also means no graduations, no weddings even for healthy people.

    But let's say things do calm down by the end of April. Yet the virus pops up again in the fall. Will this new precedent — again, thinking longer term — the new precedent require that we start canceling everything all anew.

    And that means no more campaign events like rallies, no more town halls, no more interacting with the voters. Our constitution requires that our political process continue. This crisis must not be used to help candidates of either party escape the questions and accountability from the voters.

    Nor must it be used to guilt candidates into canceling events for healthy people. At some point, people are going to begin pushing back against mass hysteria.

    • On the March 19 edition of her show, Ingraham bemoaned: “You know the pressure people are under to say, ‘OK, we got to all come together, we just got to work together, we have to do something.’ So it's always the people who are asking the questions are always vilified. If you ask a question about a lockdown, or write an editorial as they did in The [Wall Street] Journal today, basically saying, ‘Rethinking the Coronavirus Shutdown,’ I mean, you are vilified.”

    • On April 2, she said that the economic lockdown to fight coronavirus might “kill the patient, which is America.” Later in the same broadcast, she explained: “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.”

    • On April 7, she hosted Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore, who said that “the American economy, our $20 trillion economic engine, is in the intensive care unit right now.” Ingraham herself added: “We’ve got to protect lives but … these are all lives, I mean, there are lives on both sides here.”

    • Also on April 8, Ingraham tweeted a call for Trump to overrule his top medical experts, and have the country reopen on May 1:

    laura-ingraham-tweet-trump-tell-fauci-birx-reopen-04-08-2020.png
    • On the April 13 edition of her show, in a discussion with Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Ingraham compared the expert recommendations that the country needs 6-7 million coronavirus tests per week, compared to the reality of only about 200,000 right now — as a point against the experts’ goals. “But we have to set metrics for reopening the country that are realistic,” Ingraham said, “not continuing to move the goalposts on when Americans can actually exercise their civil liberties and make a decent darn living.”

    • On April 16, Ingraham hosted TV personality Dr. Phil McGraw — who relinquished his license to practice psychology in 2006 — to dismiss the need for lockdowns during the pandemic by arguing that the country doesn’t shut down over automobile-, cigarette-, or swimming-related deaths.

    • By April 23, Ingraham was denouncing the guidance of an actual medical expert: “If we wait for Dr. Fauci's seal of approval to reopen America, we may not have an America to reopen. At least not one we recognize.”

    • And on May 4, Ingraham said that there had been “no real scientific basis for believing” that social distancing was necessary or even useful in combatting the spread of the pandemic. “Viruses spread, that's what they do,” she added. “They often weaken as they go, and if it's like SARS, we hope it is, it'll eventually burn out as SARS did.”

  • Ingraham opposes relief measures

    • On the March 11 edition of her show, Ingraham said to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL): “So, this is what Americans need to understand tonight, what the Democrats are floating, Congressman Gaetz, is a permanent series of government controls on American business as we're going to need to climb out of this chasm at some point. That's just what business is going to need, on its back — another anvil — trying to climb out of this hole that it's now in because of this virus.”

    • On the March 12 edition of her show, Ingraham said that the coronavirus aid package showed that Democrats were “more comfortable with socialism than they're letting on,” claiming that “in the end, the average person is always asked to cough up more money. In return, they get less freedom. It's socialism by crisis, and there's no hiding it.”

    • On the March 19 episode of her show, Ingraham hosted conservative economist Stephen Moore to blast the proposals for expanded unemployment benefits or universal stimulus checks during the pandemic, saying he had discussed it with his stepsons. “And the first one said, ‘Why would anybody work if the government is going to give you free money?’” Moore continued: “If a seventh and eighth grader can figure that out, why can't members of Congress? … Economics is not complicated.”

  • Ingraham spins conspiracy theories about Democrats

    Ingraham has long said the entire crisis is really a Democratic plot to not only sink Trump, but to enact a wider left-wing agenda.

    • On February 25, she shot back at Trump critics saying he needed to work more effectively with other countries, using a key right-wing buzzword: “Now, does anyone actually think that more globalism is going to help this crisis? …  Now, this may end up being a global epidemic, but his first responsibility is to the American people.”

    • Attacking Democrats on the February 26 broadcast, Ingraham said: “All they know how to do though is stoke panic. What else do they really have at this point? I guess they have Bernie's laundry list of freebies: free health care, free pre-K, free college, free medical care, free housing. It's all a fraud. No one takes any of this seriously.”

    • On the March 25 edition of her show, Ingraham warned of cities releasing criminals from jails during the pandemic, calling it a “get out of jail free card” — during which she was joined by former New York City Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, himself recently pardoned by Trump for a corruption conviction stemming from his period as head of the U.S.-led occupation government in Iraq. (No mention was made that Kerik had himself served three years in prison.)

    • On her March 27 show, Ingraham covered a lot of ground during just one segment of denouncing the aid packages going through Congress. “If you thought spending $2.1 trillion would make Democrats happy, come on,” she said. “The tin cup is out, many on the radical left complaining that this so-called stimulus bill didn't include all of the socialist goodies they wanted.” She also tied into the ongoing right-wing misinformation campaigns against Planned Parenthood, saying to Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY): “Congressman, this is where the Democrats always go. Always has to go to the culture of death, as we are supposedly fighting death and destruction of this virus. We have got to keep funding death on the other side, of abortion.”

    • And on March 10, she denounced calls by then-Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for an eventual coronavirus vaccine to be made freely available to all, with Ingraham attempting to spin Sanders’ remarks to mean that the United States would pay for everyone around the world to get it:

    LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): And after your tax dollars are used to develop a vaccine, a Sanders administration would have wanted you to cover the costs for everyone — OK, but also for everyone across the globe.

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

    SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): When that vaccine is developed, obviously it should be made free to every person in this country and in fact every person in the world.

    (END VIDEO CLIP)

    INGRAHAM: Yes. Why not? And never content to let a good crisis go to waste, the left would use this health emergency to spend money on stupid programs. Any excuse to grow our already bloated government.

    • When Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that America would have to get to a “new normal,” Ingraham shot back conspiratorially on the April 1 edition of her show: “But if the ‘new normal’ that Cuomo's talking about means abandoning living the life we loved before the coronavirus or using this crisis, as some seem to be doing, as a vehicle for advancing a left-wing, freedom-killing agenda? Well, count us out.”

    • On April 2, she said of the push to expand voting by mail during the pandemic: “But of all the scams perpetrated through the COVID nightmare, the effort to change voting — we told you like two weeks ago this was going to happen — is perhaps the worst. Anything to create more opportunities for ballot harvesting or even voter fraud.”

    • On the April 9 edition of her show, Ingraham accused congressional Democrats of purposely working to hurt seniors, small businesses, and other vulnerable groups: “I know this is harsh to say, but it seems like Democrats in Congress almost want as many Americans out of work on Election Day as possible.”

    • On the April 13 edition of Ingraham’s show, guest Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) said that in the debate over extending funding for the paycheck protection programs, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) “looks at this as leverage to be able to get unrelated priority items — as she tried last time with phase three, the Green New Deal, ballot harvesting, and other items.” In turn, Ingraham said that both Pelosi and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden “acknowledge the crisis, but they see a political opportunity — which has to be exposed every step of the way.”

    • On April 13, Ingraham attacked former first lady Michelle Obama’s advocacy for voting by mail, invoking her own mother who she said worked and raised four children — but always got to the polls in person. “And now, nobody can get to the polls,” Ingraham said. “Apparently, nobody can get to the polls anymore. I’ve never seen anything like this.”