Poll: More and more Fox News viewers believe conspiracy theory about COVID-19 death counts

The network continues to be a major source of pandemic disinformation — and people are listening

A new Axios/Ipsos poll finds that people who get their news from Fox News are more likely to buy into a conspiracy theory that has frequently been spread by right-wing media since the pandemic began: The false and baseless idea that the coronavirus death count has been inflated.

The poll found that 62% of Fox News watchers said the real number of coronavirus deaths is lower than the official number, closely aligning with 59% of Republicans. By contrast, only 9% of Democrats and 31% of Americans overall professed this view.

And this figure is going up, too: When the poll previously asked this question in May, it showed 44% of Fox News watchers and 40% of Republicans thought the deaths were over-counted, compared to just 7% of Democrats and 23% of Americans overall.

In fact, a recent study by Yale University researchers, published three weeks ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reaffirmed what public health experts have long been saying: The true coronavirus death numbers are undercounted.

CNBC reported on the study:

Covid-19 affects nearly every system in the body, including the circulatory system, leading to an uptick in heart attacks and strokes that physicians now believe were indirectly caused by the virus.

The number of excess deaths from any causes were 28% higher than the official tally of U.S. Covid-19 deaths during those months. The researchers noted the increase in excess deaths in many states trailed an increase in outpatient visits from people reporting an “influenza-like illness.”

Fox News has been one of the main sources of misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, broadcasting literally hundreds of examples of alternative facts about the deadly outbreak in just a single week. And as a Media Matters study also found in late May, the network gave scant coverage as the U.S. death toll was officially approaching the 100,000 mark. (At time of writing, the CDC’s official death toll is now over 140,000.)

The network’s single biggest peddler of such deception has been Laura Ingraham, host of the Fox prime-time show The Ingraham Angle.

On just this past Friday’s edition of her show, for example, Ingraham hosted cardiologist Dr. Ramin Oskoui. Their discussion ranged from alleging the inefficacy (or even danger) of wearing cloth masks to fight the spread of the disease, continuing to promote the use of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as treatment for COVID-19 — and yes, alleging that the coronavirus death counts are inflated.

Ingraham and Oskoui zeroed in on a report from the local Fox-owned station in Orlando, Florida, which found that a motorcycle crash victim had apparently been added to the state’s official coronavirus death count.

Video file

Citation From the July 17, 2020, edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle

After playing a video clip from the local story — to which Ingraham commented that she couldn’t understand what the local health official was saying through his mask — Oskoui said he didn’t think such an incident was a “one-off,” and that the federal Department of Health and Human Services should “audit every COVID death and every COVID diagnosis of every hospital.”

“Remember, we're paying bonus money to patients who are intubated for COVID and who are diagnosed as having COVID in the hospital,” Oskoui said. “That's coming to hundreds of millions of dollars. I think so the American people don't get cheated, these hospitals need to be audited, every single one of them, every single case.”

Of course, the idea of the federal government auditing every single COVID-related death, as proposed here, would also have the effect of vastly slowing down the official reporting of deaths — which would help other Fox hosts and right-wing media personalities who have similarly claimed that the official death counts aren’t real.

Correction (11/2/20): This piece originally misstated the first name of Fox guest and cardiologist Dr. Ramin Oskoui as “Robert.”