The United States just officially passed 200,000 Americans dead from the coronavirus pandemic, but Fox News has continued to largely ignore the national coronavirus death toll during its programming over the past few weeks. Instead, the network has repeatedly complained loudly about health measures designed to slow the spread of the virus -- social distancing guidelines, face masks, or restrictions on indoor activities and gatherings -- to an astonishing degree.
Since September 1, Fox News personalities or guests have reported or mentioned the coronavirus national death toll or daily death rate in just 55 segments that were about the pandemic; by contrast, they largely spent their time complaining about coronavirus health measures, attacking them in 260 such segments.
Fox’s “straight news” shows more often highlighted complaints about health measures than they reported the death toll: They aired 98 segments with complaints and only 48 segments reporting the death toll, a more than 2-to-1 ratio.
Even more egregious were Fox’s opinion shows, which reported the death toll in just seven segments while complaining about health measures in a staggering 162 segments, more than 23 times as often.
CNN anchor Brianna Keilar put this type of misinformation into sharp focus during the September 17 edition of CNN Newsroom, calling out Fox’s pattern of coverage minimizing the effectiveness of health measures while downplaying the death toll. Over the last week on Fox:
- The Ingraham Angle host Laura Ingraham featured a panel of guests who implied political motivations for quarantines and undermined the science and effectiveness of mask use while also dismissing the number of projected U.S. deaths due to the virus.
- The Story anchor Martha MacCallum defended remarks from Attorney General William Barr comparing quarantine health guidelines to slavery when he said that “putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders, is like house arrest. It’s -- you know, other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”
- Both Tucker Carlson Tonight host Tucker Carlson and Ingraham aired segments accusing Nashville’s Democratic mayor, John Cooper, of intentionally covering up coronavirus data about transmission of the virus in bars and restaurants in order to keep the public in a state of panic. (The accusations against Cooper were later completely debunked.) Carlson also used his segment to downplay the danger of the coronavirus. Ingraham’s guest, Phil Kerpen, president of the conservative think tank American Commitment, stated that “there’s a lot of evidence that lockdowns did not work.”
In reality, multiple independent studies suggest that lockdowns saved millions of lives and prevented up to 60 million infections in the U.S., and scientists and medical experts agree that face masks are an effective barrier to the spread of the virus.
As America crosses the line of 200,000 coronavirus deaths under an administration that has, at best, fumbled the federal response to a global pandemic of a scope that we’ve not seen in more than a century, Fox is complicit in spreading misinformation and lies about the virus itself and the recommended guidelines to fight it from public health experts and scientists.
Downplaying the number of American lives claimed by this virus is also a key campaign strategy of President Donald Trump’s reelection efforts; by not reporting on the mounting death toll, Fox plays directly into this strategy and does another dangerous disservice to the viewing public.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for any of the terms “coronavirus,” “COVID,” “COVID-19,” “virus,” or “pandemic” from September 1 through September 20, 2020.
We reviewed segments about any coronavirus-related issue, which we defined as instances when any coronavirus-related issue was the stated topic of discussion or when two or more speakers in a multi-topic segment discussed any coronavirus-related issue with one another. We excluded teasers for upcoming segments, passing mentions of coronavirus-related issues in segments about other topics, and coverage of live events that touched on any coronavirus-related issue.
Within these segments, we then determined whether any Fox News personality or guest reported or mentioned the coronavirus national death toll total or the national daily death rate. This included Fox News on-screen graphics showing either the death toll or the death rate. This did not include clips of other networks using on-screen graphics or other persons reporting or mentioning the death toll or death rate, nor did it include instances when Fox News personalities or guests reported or mentioned the death toll or death rate in order to dismiss, downplay, or question its importance or validity.
We also then determined within coronavirus-related segments whether any Fox News personality or guest complained about any health measure -- social distancing guidelines, face masks, or restrictions on indoor activities or gatherings -- designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. This included instances describing health measures as unconstitutional or unlawful; highlighting persons, groups, or organizations actively fighting against any health measure; or accusing progressive politicians or activists of hypocrisy regarding the enforcement of or adherence to any health measure.
A single coronavirus-related segment could include both an instance of reporting or mentioning the death toll or death rate and an instance of complaining about any health measure. The data do not include coronavirus-related segments that did not meet at least one of the two above criteria.
We split Fox programs into “news” and “opinion” sides. We defined “news” programs as those with anchors, such as Bret Baier or Shannon Bream, while we defined “opinion” programs as those with hosts, such as Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham, at the helm. We used the designations from each anchor or host’s FoxNews.com author page. We also considered the format of the program; we defined those using a panel format, such as Outnumbered and The Five, as “opinion.”