While nearly 2,000 Americans continue to die from COVID-19 every day, Fox News has started to pull back on its coverage of the deadly pandemic in favor of stories more friendly to President Donald Trump. While the decline in coverage has been occurring for several days now, Fox’s pivot was made blatantly obvious during Fox & Friends’ May 8 episode, when the hosts interviewed the president and didn’t mention the coronavirus until 20 minutes in.
Fox’s effort to deemphasize coronavirus coverage is becoming increasingly clear. According to a search of transcripts from SnapStream, a media monitoring service, the word “coronavirus” was said only seven times during the May 8 episode of Fox & Friends, a show that lasts three hours. (For comparison, SnapStream had 28 hits for coronavirus during the show's April 8 edition.)
The first discussion of the coronavirus came 13 minutes into the show, and it was framed around Shelley Luther, a Texas salon owner who was jailed in an act of civil disobedience for refusing to follow stay-at-home guidelines. Luther’s story has become a rallying cry on the network. Then, during their interview with the president, the hosts spent 20 minutes on other topics before even bringing up the deadly pandemic. Overall, the virus was just a footnote of the nearly hour-long interview.
Similarly, on America’s Newsroom, one of the network’s supposed “news"-side programs, the coronavirus wasn’t the lead story; instead, the hosts focused on former national security adviser Michael Flynn and newly released transcripts from the Russia probe. The first full segment related to the pandemic was once again about Luther.
Even when the network is talking about the coronavirus, it’s frequently not focused on testing, or the number of cases, or any information that would inform the public. Instead, the reporting is largely presented in ways that further the network’s conservative and pro-Trump leanings, whether through attacking homeless and low-income people or glorifying those who are choosing not to abide by or enforce the stay-at-home guidelines. The pivot away from the coronavirus has also been apparent on the network’s website.
According to Media Matters’ internal database, the number of segments discussing COVID-19 on Fox News started to drop on April 30. And Fox’s declining coverage of the coronavirus has largely coincided with an uptick in Fox’s coverage of stories that are beneficial to Trump, with an increasingly dominant focus on retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, whose case was just dropped by Trump’s Department of Justice. In the days leading up to that move, Fox had been ramping up coverage of Flynn and special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe in general.
Flynn came back into the news cycle on Fox on April 27, and since then the network has aired at least 165 segments discussing his case. The Department of Justice’s decision to drop its charges against the former Trump national security adviser came after Fox mounted a prime-time campaign laying the groundwork for Flynn’s exoneration.
Trump’s handling of the coronavirus is not viewed favorably by a majority of the public, with 51.2% disapproving of his response while 43.5% approve. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Fox is attempting to shift its viewers’ focus.