Some of talk radio’s biggest right-wing personalities are working to assure listeners that media coverage of coronavirus is nothing more than an effort to take down President Donald Trump.
Hosts like Rush Limbaugh have spread dangerous misinformation about the virus and claimed that concerns voiced by Democrats and the media are simply a ploy to damage Trump. At the same time, these hosts have offered fawning praise for the Trump administration’s response to the crisis, which has proved to be largely inadequate. Audiences for these and other right-wing media sources are being presented with a distorted version of reality that could have serious health consequences.
Rush Limbaugh touched off a wave of criticism when he argued on February 24 that “the coronavirus is the common cold” in terms of its severity. That comment inspired numerous fact checks pointing out that coronavirus is much more dangerous than the common cold and making clear that Limbaugh was downplaying the danger the virus presents.
In the same segment, Limbaugh also presented a talking point that would become common among right-wing media figures, claiming that Trump’s opponents are “weaponizing” the virus to hurt Trump. According to Limbaugh, Democrats and the media are exaggerating the threat of coronavirus because they believe it will reflect badly on the Trump administration and cost him reelection in 2020.
Limbaugh, who has a long history of promoting conspiracy theories, made reference on February 24 to the baseless claim that coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory. He also implied on February 26 that something nefarious was behind a warning from Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after learning that she is former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s sister.
Like Limbaugh, Sean Hannity has accused Democrats and the media of “weaponizing” coronavirus to hurt Trump. The Fox News host went so far as to claim on the March 2 edition of his radio show that “it’s like [Trump’s opponents] are hoping Americans die and get sick” because it would further their efforts to defeat Trump.
Hannity has also been reliably sycophantic in his praise of the Trump administration’s response. In particular, Hannity applauded Trump on March 2 for instituting a “travel ban” which “stopped the spread of this virus,” despite the fact that the travel restrictions the president put in place neither constituted a ban nor completely stopped the spread of coronavirus.
Beyond praise for the Trump administration, Hannity has also seized on the response to coronavirus as a way to criticize former President Barack Obama. Hannity has claimed on Fox that Trump’s response to coronavirus has been far more effective than the Obama administration’s response to H1N1 in 2009. And on the March 2 edition of his radio show, Hannity offered a misleading interpretation of the facts surrounding the response to H1N1 in an effort to portray the Obama administration as slow to act.
Mark Levin has also offered obsequious praise for the Trump administration while referring to the response from Democratic lawmakers as “diabolical.” Levin interprets the response as part of a long history of Democrats supposedly “using health issues to create health scares,” and he cited numerous health issues in which he alleged media “on the left” were engaged in fearmongering, including the Ebola virus.