From Fox News’ airwaves to right-wing talk radio to the pages of the nation’s most prominent conservative newspaper editorial section, the novel coronavirus is being declared a hoax again.
More than 115,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, caseloads and hospitalizations are soaring in key states, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, is warning that the nation is “still in the first wave” and won’t return to normality this year. But Trumpists have returned to the talking point they settled on at the start of the pandemic: Democrats and the press, they claim, are conspiring together, exaggerating the danger from the virus in order to damage President Donald Trump’s political standing.
Meanwhile Trump himself, ensconced within this right-wing media bubble, is falsely claiming that the virus is “dying out” and “fading away” -- and his campaign is set to hold an indoor rally in Tulsa this Saturday
Fox prime-time host and sometime presidential coronavirus adviser Laura Ingraham says that Democratic leaders facing increasing COVID counts would only reinstitute stricter social distancing measures in order to torpedo the economy and hurt Trump’s reelection chances, and the federal government should punish any state that does so.
“The left is really panicked about the economy coming back,” she tweeted on Wednesday. “Ruins their narrative. Expect more calls to shutdown states again citing supposed COVID concerns. No tax dollars to states that refuse to open.”
On her Fox program on Monday, Ingraham suggested that the “hyperventilation over a second wave of COVID cases” is simply an effort by journalists and the left to hamper the president’s campaigning. She also included Fauci in that conspiracy theory.
“The medical deep state strikes again,” Ingraham said of his statement over the weekend that normality won’t return this fall or winter. “The bottom line for all of us is that the president and his campaign should simply not react to any of this alarmist COVID drivel from here on out,” she concluded.
Ingraham isn’t the only one at Fox positing such a conspiracy theory. Her colleague Tucker Carlson last week attacked journalists who “were acting as press agents for power-drunk Democratic politicians” by “lying to us about the coronavirus and our response to it,” claiming that “we can say conclusively the lockdowns were not necessary.”
It’s not just Fox. Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the State of the Union earlier this year, told his millions of listeners on Wednesday to ignore “the virus numbers” because the media is lying about them to help Democrats.
“You can't believe anything in the news because there isn't any news anymore,” he said. “There is no pretense of doing news, there’s no pretense. The only thing that's happening is destroy Donald Trump, destroy Trump voters, destroy the Republican Party, reelect Democrats. That’s all that’s going on. You can't believe this stuff. You can't believe the virus numbers.”
He continued, “The hospitals have every incentive to call every patient a virus patient because they get money for it. The press, the media, has every incentive to hurt Trump.”
The highbrow portion of the conservative base is getting the same message. The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed from Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday headlined “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave’.”
“The media has tried to scare the American people every step of the way, and these grim predictions of a second wave are no different,” he wrote. “The truth is, whatever the media says, our whole-of-America approach has been a success.”
As part of what he termed reasons “for celebration, not the media’s fear mongering,” Pence, who chairs the White House coronavirus task force, wrote that “in the past five days, deaths are down to fewer than 750 a day.” COVID-19 would kill nearly 275,000 Americans a year if that rate held steady. That would make it the country’s No. 3 cause of death, after heart disease and cancer, representing nearly 10% of all U.S. annual mortality.
The Trump administration’s propagandists have simply returned to the argument they used at the very beginning of the pandemic in late February -- that Democrats and the press were overhyping the danger posed by coronavirus because they hate the president. The argument captivated the president at the time and likely played a role in his inept response as the virus spread.
Fox and its right-wing media compatriots failed their audiences by serving up this propaganda in the place of real information about a growing public health threat and the steps that could be taken to minimize it.
They failed their audiences again in early April, when Fox’s prime-time hosts effectively declared that victory had been achieved against the virus. They soon pivoted to denouncing all the recommendations public health experts have made to stop the spread of the virus, from masks to contact tracing to additional testing, arguing that the cure would be worse than the disease, which wasn’t really that dangerous. Roughly 100,000 more Americans have died of COVID-19 since they claimed the mission had been accomplished.
They are failing their audiences now, and the consequences could be tragic.