Earlier this week, with coronavirus cases surging to dangerous levels in Wisconsin, local radio host Vicki McKenna asked her audience, “Where’s the crisis? There isn’t a crisis.”
McKenna is hardly a lone voice on Wisconsin’s airwaves — other right-wing talk radio hosts in the state have similarly downplayed the latest spike, and even attacked new social distancing measures designed to curb the spread of the virus.
The number of available hospital beds in Wisconsin has decreased over the past month, and deaths are on the rise as well. Some have blamed the spike in part on “pandemic fatigue,” arguing that Wisconsin residents appear to be less committed to social distancing measures and mask-wearing as the pandemic has dragged on. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes, Wisconsinites in Republican-heavy areas also seem less likely to comply with virus precautions.
The state’s conservative radio hosts certainly aren’t encouraging listeners to take the spike seriously, instead choosing to spread misinformation about the virus and to criticize both new regulations and the state officials behind them. By undermining the state’s efforts to get this spike under control, these hosts are potentially putting more Wisconsinites in danger.
McKenna, whose show airs in both Madison and Milwaukee, has long been a vocal spreader of coronavirus misinformation. The host has repeatedly questioned the effectiveness of masks and falsely compared the virus to “kind of a run-of-the-mill bad flu” during an interview earlier this month.
In response to the latest surge, Gov. Tony Evers implemented an order restricting indoor businesses to 25% capacity. Despite evidence of increased indoor transmission and the importance of social distancing, McKenna argued on October 14 that “we don’t even have science that backs up a 25% capacity limitation.” The host also mocked the qualifications of state government officials responsible for implementing the restrictions.
Fellow Milwaukee radio host Jay Weber went even further, arguing on Twitter that business owners should ignore the new regulations entirely.
While discussing hospitalization numbers, Weber claimed on October 12, “Even now, after all this alarmism, these numbers make the 25% capacity mandate by the Evers administration look even more politically motivated and ludicrous.” Weber continued, “Once you know the truth there is no reason for these new lockdown limits. None.”
In the same show, Weber argued that the country should “go for some herd immunity” and promoted the Great Barrington Declaration, a call for developing herd immunity through “natural” widespread infection of the population, despite the fact that such a strategy could have potentially disastrous consequences.
On WTAQ in Green Bay, host Joe Giganti criticized state officials calling on Wisconsinites to abide by social distancing measures. Giganti declared on October 21 that “the ‘scaredemic’ narrative is what is not sustainable,” arguing that Wisconsin is experiencing a “slight uptick” in case numbers, but “positive test results is what’s really rising.”
Dan O’Donnell, another host in Milwaukee, took a similar approach, claiming on October 19 that “the number of cases is — it’s almost a scare tactic to make you think that oh my goodness this virus is out of control no matter what we do. And I am absolutely convinced that it’s being used as a political bludgeon against Republicans to try to turn senior citizens against Donald Trump and against state legislative and congressional Republicans.”
Like McKenna, O’Donnell also questioned the qualifications of a state official involved in the state’s coronavirus response, suggesting that “the Evers administration needs to follow the science and actually hire people who study the science.”
To effectively address this spike in cases, all Wisconsin residents will need to take social distancing and other coronavirus measures seriously. Yet the state’s talk radio hosts don’t seem to care, and they’re potentially putting listeners’ lives at risk as a result.