Vice President Mike Pence, who President Donald Trump has placed in charge of overseeing the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, appeared Friday afternoon on The Rush Limbaugh Show — which has been the source of a mixture of conspiracy theories, denialism, and other misinformation about the virus.
During the program, Pence stated that the government is on top of the situation, saying, “President Trump has no higher priority than the health of the American people.”
Radio host Rush Limbaugh offered his support to Pence and discussed the problem as a matter beyond politics. “I'm for you guys, I want you to succeed because this needs success. I mean, this problem needs to be dealt with successfully, hopefully as apolitically as possible,” Limbaugh said. “The virus doesn't know whether it's infecting a Republican or a Democrat, a woman, a man, anything. And until we get a better handle on it, we want competent people working on this.”
However, the segment made no mention of all the irresponsible rhetoric and conspiracy theories that its own host had been spreading earlier this week.
Kicking off the week on Monday, Limbaugh falsely claimed that the novel coronavirus strain known as COVID-19 is actually just “the common cold,” but added that it “probably is a [Chinese Communist] laboratory experiment that is in the process of being weaponized” as part of “an effort to bring down Trump” through negative media coverage.
Limbaugh then only dug in further on Tuesday, downplaying the potential impact of coronavirus in the U.S. and declaring:
RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): I'm not going to play ball with this, I'm not going to join a panic over something that I have been independently informing myself about. I have no interest in lying to you about anything, it doesn't help me, it doesn't help you, it doesn't further anything. It doesn't help a thing for me to knowingly lie to you about something as serious as a “possible global pandemic,” and that's how the media is treating this.
He later went on to claim that the coronavirus was not a major threat, but that the media was only hoping for it to sufficiently evolve to become one:
RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): They hope for hurricanes — on the first day of hurricane season, they hope for Hurricane Katrina so they can say “climate change,” anything to advance the leftist agenda. Now, the leftist agenda includes getting rid of Trump. They would love for the coronavirus to be this deadly strain that wipes everybody out, so they could blame Trump for it.”
Limbaugh did not repeat or even acknowledge any of these conspiracy theories during the interview with Pence — nor did Pence mention that Limbaugh had been spreading them.
Later in the program, Pence projected a message of nonpartisan national unity in the crisis.
“We're going to follow the facts, we're going to follow the science, we're going to tune out the politics, and keep reaching out to people across the spectrum,” Pence said. “And I have to tell you, my conversations with many of the officials that I mentioned to you in the Democratic Party, I get that sense — I think this is a real moment where we have an opportunity to really come together and work this issue on behalf of the American people. And that's going to continue to be our focus.”
Pence also rebutted the story that any kind of “gag order” had been imposed on Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, as was reported Thursday in The New York Times.
“I was told that Dr. Fauci testified at a briefing in Congress today that there is no gag order and there is not. What we want to make sure is happening is that with so many different agencies involved, that we're providing that information in a consistent and a systematic way,” Pence said. “We're going to give the American people the facts. We're going to follow what the scientific community is recommending on this. And we're going to let the health care experts lead.”
However, the message that the Trump-Pence administration is “going to let the health care experts lead” is another talking point that should contrast sharply with Limbaugh’s rhetoric during the coronavirus crisis. On Thursday, Limbaugh was one of many right-wing media figures attacking Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because she is also the sister of former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. (Rosenstein is a frequent target of pro-Trump propagandists for having appointed Robert Mueller as a special counsel in the Russia investigation.)