Putting lives at risk, Fox News helps Trump push misinformation about the coronavirus

During an on-air chat with his shadow chief-of-staff -- Republican operative and Fox News host Sean Hannity -- President Donald Trump sent the message to audiences that the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is no big deal, downplayed the World Health Organization’s estimate of the death rate of the virus based on his “hunch,” and even implyed it’s OK for people who have contracted the virus to go to work.

Hannity challenged him on none of this. Moreover, reporting on the discussion hours later, Fox “straight news” anchor Shannon Bream instead portrayed Trump’s comments as though he was just rebuking mainstream media.

Here’s this discussion between Hannity and Trump on the coronavirus:

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Citation From the March 4, 2020, edition of Fox News' Hannity

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): You extended your travel ban. You met with the pharmaceutical companies in the country. I understand you are meeting with -- you're going down to Atlanta to meet with the CDC leadership.



HANNITY: We have a report today the global death rate at 3.4%, and a report that the Olympics could be delayed. Your reaction to that?

TRUMP: Well, I think the 3.4% is really a false number. Now, this is just my hunch, and -- but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this, because a lot of people will have this, and it's very mild. They will get better very rapidly. They don't even see a doctor. They don't even call a doctor.

You never hear about those people. So, you can't put them down in the category of the overall population in terms of this corona flu and -- or virus. So you just can't do that. So, if, you know, we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work -- some of them go to work, but they get better.

And then, when you do have a death, like you have had in the state of Washington, like you had one in California -- I believe you had one in New York -- you know, all of a sudden, it seems like 3 or 4%, which is a very high number, as opposed to -- as opposed to a fraction of 1%. But, again, they don't know about the easy cases, because the easy cases don't go to the hospital.

They don't report to doctors or the hospital in many cases. So I think that that number is very high. I think the number -- personally, I would say the number is way under 1%. Now, with the regular flu, we average from 27,000 to 77,000 deaths a year. Who would think that? I never knew that, until six or eight weeks ago.

I asked that question. I said, how many people die of the flu? You know, you keep hearing about flu shot, flu shot, take your flu shot. But I said, how many people die of the flu? And they said, sir, we lose between 27,000 and, you know, somewhere in the 70s. I think we went as high as 100,000 people died in 1990, if you can believe that.

But a lot of people, regardless, I think it averages about 36,000 people a year. So I said, wow. And that's -- now, that's a percentage that's under 1% very substantially. So, it would be interesting to see what that difference is. But, you know, again, a lot of people don't report, because they get the coronavirus, and they get better relatively quickly.

It's not that severe.

Many people immediately noted the danger of the president’s remarks and Fox’s role in spreading misinformation about the crisis.

The 3.4% death rate for coronavirus may well be too high, based on expert assessments -- not “hunches.” But that’s not to say that the virus isn’t a serious problem; it’s too early to make this comparison writ large, but the Spanish flu killed millions and had a greater than 2.5% death rate, per the CDC.

Trump’s words are not only “at odds with what health experts are saying,” but he’s also contradicting what members of his own administration are saying about staying home if you are sick. (Trump is now trying to distance himself from his own remarks about staying home.)

Yet that basic reality about the severity of this virus isn’t reflected at Fox News. People at Fox frequently talk about the differences between the news division and opinion hosts like Sean Hannity. But just over an hour after Trump’s interview, Fox “straight news” anchor Shannon Bream portrayed Trump’s remarks to Hannity as a rebuke of mainstream media. She then interviewed Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), who downplayed the virus:

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Citation From the March 4, 2020, edition of Fox News' Fox News at Night

The Trump administration has unquestionably botched the response to the virus. But letting Fox News lie about the severity of the virus to the people most vulnerable is not just misinformation, it’s malpractice.