Thanksgiving celebrations may look a bit different this year as the result of the unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic, which has already infected more than 11 million people in the United States and killed more than 246,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even worse, as medical experts learn more about how the virus spreads, it’s become increasingly clear that small and medium-sized indoor gatherings with friends and extended family are playing a major role in fueling recent outbreaks.
Understandably, this news has many experts worried about the potential for holiday travel and gatherings to wreak havoc on a country already suffering increasing trends in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. As many cities and states across the country respond with new stay-at-home orders and other restrictions to fight the surge in cases, the CDC recently released a set of recommendations for safe holiday gatherings and what people can do to mitigate risk for Thanksgiving celebrations. These suggestions did not go over particularly well with many people in right-wing media who responded by publicly rejecting any measures to limit gatherings during the pandemic -- a clear example of conservative “vice signaling” in the middle of a public health crisis.
Setting aside the fact that these guidelines are completely optional, it’s worth remembering that one of the reasons we’re still struggling to control the virus more than eight months into the pandemic is that both the larger public and our elected officials didn’t take necessary action early on. This inaction often drew cheers from conservative media outlets and commentators, who spent significant portions of the year trying to undermine public health guidelines while downplaying the danger presented by the virus.
After months of trying to turn the pandemic into a culture war flashpoint, conservative media refuse to see the role they played in drawing out the pandemic’s length and severity.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Fox News has been a major source of COVID-19 misinformation and a consistent critic of measures to slow the spread of the virus. Whether it was promoting the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine despite a total lack of evidence for its effectiveness as a coronavirus treatment or playing host to anti-mask advocate and “Covid Contrarian” Alex Berenson, Fox has been an unfortunately influential voice in the national discussion around the pandemic, downplaying the deadliness of the disease, criticizing states for enacting restrictions on public gatherings, and bashing the idea of lockdowns. While it’s impossible to know exactly how different the impact of the pandemic would be if Fox’s advice had been ignored by the president and his loyal supporters, months of preaching defiance in the face of science hasn’t helped matters. If not for Fox’s destructive monthslong assault on public health, it’s within the realm of possibilities that we could be enjoying something closer to a normal holiday season.
This isn’t going to be a relatively normal holiday season, however, and Fox News isn’t taking that news particularly well. On Tuesday’s edition of Fox & Friends, Fox Business host Charles Payne referred to COVID-related restrictions implemented by Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as a push for “separation of families,” invoking the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy targeting children of undocumented immigrants. On Monday, White House Coronavirus Task Force adviser Dr. Scott Atlas went on Fox News to criticize the idea that elderly Americans who are most at risk from the virus shouldn’t take part in large family celebrations, fatalistically adding that “for many people this is their final Thanksgiving.”
Fox News host Sean Hannity, who has been one of the biggest sources of destructive COVID-19 coverage, has posted at least a dozen tweets about Thanksgiving. On Monday, he hyped appearances by right-wing commentator Dave Rubin and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) on his show by claiming that “the Left” was waging a “war on Thanksgiving.” After Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio curtailed the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Hannity called him the “World’s Worst Mayor.”
On Tuesday evening’s edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, an Oregon official opposed to lockdowns compared public health measures to slavery. During that evening’s episode of The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham claimed that Democratic governors were implementing COVID-19 guidelines because “they seem, once again, to relish the prospect of controlling our most intimate choices.”
Fox News isn’t alone in spending months promoting actions and policies that have prolonged the pandemic before complaining about how long it has lasted. The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh spent the early months of the pandemic ranting about his opposition to the “pro-shutdown camp,” railing against the “insanity” of lockdowns, and making absurd claims about public health measures being “blatant tyranny” while calling on his followers to “take to the streets.”
After months of encouraging behavior that would extend the length of the pandemic, Walsh sees suggestions that we not do things to extend it even further as evidence of Democrats carrying out some sort of culturally-motivated sneak attack on Thanksgiving.
Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk has spent months arguing that the pandemic isn’t actually a pandemic, that masks don’t work, and that canceling the college football season would result in “hundreds” of suicides. This week, he claimed that progressives want to restrict Thanksgiving gatherings because of their own supposed disdain for the holiday itself.
Right-wing plagiarist and new Newsmax host Benny Johnson spent the entirety of the pandemic cheering on people for defying lockdown restrictions and claiming the “real” virus is everything ranging from communism to fatherlessness. Naturally, when faced with the suggestion that people scale back their Thanksgiving plans because the entire country has effectively turned into a COVID-19 hotspot, Johnson lashed out at the government.
Others on the right who’ve made a big show of their plans to defy public health recommendations include Matt Schlapp (who had to self-quarantine after his American Conservative Union held its annual Conservative Political Action Conference in late February), alt-right Twitter personality Mike Cernovich, right-wing TV host Buck Sexton, and Fox Business host Stuart Varney. Others, such as conservative blogger Erick Erickson, Townhall.com writer Julio Rosas, former OANN host Liz Wheeler, and right-wing convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza, couched their rejection of safety requests in claims of Democratic hypocrisy.
Virtually everyone, regardless of political beliefs, would prefer a holiday season free from worries about the pandemic. That just isn’t realistic right now.
While some right-wing media figures like Berenson would have you believe that the goal of anyone expressing concern about a disease that’s killed nearly a quarter million Americans is to enter into a permanent state of lockdown, that’s not true. We all want a return to normalcy, but we must first stop doing things that extend the pandemic for ourselves and for others. Public health cannot be part of the culture war. It’s really as simple as that.
This piece has been updated with additional examples.