Talk radio hosts dismiss concerns about coronavirus as an effort to take down Trump

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

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.

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Citation From the February 24, 2020, edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show

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.

Sean Hannity

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.

Sean Hannity praises the Trump administration's coronavirus "travel ban"

Sean Hannity
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Citation From the March 2, 2020, edition of Premiere Radio Network's The Sean Hannity Show

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

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.

Mark Levin accuses Democrats of fearmongering about coronavirus

Mark Levin
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Citation From the February 26, 2020, edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Mark Levin Show

MARK LEVIN (HOST): What the Democrats are doing here really is diabolical. You know the president of the United States has really done a great job on this so far and he ought to get credit for it. He's not a demigod, he can't prevent the virus from spreading into the United States. We are a massive country.


I'm old enough and many of you are old enough to know that the Democrats use these health issues to create health scares. They do it all the time. Now, I am going to talk about this briefly and it will be completely misinterpreted by vicious, radical, left-wing propagandists who do not have the best interests of the country in mind. They do not. Whether it's war, whether it's health issues, they see politics all the time. There's a pathology in the media and on the left that is to frame science in the context of a crisis. We have the climate change crisis, before that we had the global warming crisis, before that we had the global cooling crisis. But there's always a crisis. Always. And there's always misrepresentation and fearmongering. Misrepresentation and fearmongering. You heard that today and yesterday with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.

The pathology works something like this: An event occurs, as I wrote about in Liberty and Tyranny 11 years ago. An event occurs, say food contamination is discovered or instances of a new disease arises. Or as is increasingly the case, government agencies such as the FDA or the CDC or the EPA or nonprofit organizations, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Sierra Club release a new study identify a frightening new health risk. Urgent predictions are made by experts. The media accepts it without skepticism. But here we have urgent predictions made by political hacks which may or may not come true. Some recent examples of this pathology, and they are numerous, they include scares about Alar, sweeteners, bird flu, swine flu, dioxins, E. coli, listeria, the Ebola virus, formaldehyde, MTB, BSE -- Bovine, you might remember this, spongiform, salmonella attached to tomatoes and jalapeno peppers, chlorofluorocarbons, all became huge panics far beyond the actual scope of any health threat.

In fact, right-wing media engaged in fearmongering about Ebola in an effort to damage the Obama administration. Levin himself defended this fearmongering in 2014.