Fox News systematically attacked coronavirus public health recommendations. Now its most famous viewer has it.


Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters

Fox News’ pro-Trump hosts have spent months trying to bolster President Donald Trump’s reelection chances by downplaying the threat posed by the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. They mocked former Vice President Joe Biden for the precautions his presidential campaign has taken to protect him and others and valorized Trump for defying the public health community by refusing to do so. Now, the president himself has the virus. He revealed overnight that he and the first lady, Melania Trump, had tested positive for COVID-19, and the White House on Friday morning said he is experiencing “mild symptoms.” 

Trump engaged in a series of risky behaviors before and after contracting the virus.

News of his diagnosis followed confirmation that Hope Hicks, one of his closest advisers, had tested positive, raising the possibility that he contracted it from her. White House officials “generally do not wear masks in deference to the president’s disdain for them,” according to The New York Times, even though Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has urged their use as “one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus.”

Hicks reportedly first became ill during a Wednesday night Trump rally, part of the president’s regular schedule of public events featuring crowds of often maskless supporters. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has called such large-scale rallies “risky” and “a danger” to attendees and those who come into contact with them.

Even after learning of Hicks’ positive test, Trump traveled to New Jersey for a fundraiser rather than quarantining as the CDC recommends for those exposed to the virus. 

Why would the president consistently behave so recklessly, putting the nation’s securityhis own health, and the health of those around him at risk? Trump’s leading source for information about the coronavirus isn’t government health officials like Redfield and Fauci. As with so many other topics, his worldview is shaped by the hours of Fox News he watches each day and the network hosts he relies on for advice. 

They told him, as the virus spread through the country in late February and early March, that the danger posed by the virus was minimal and had been inflated by his political enemies.

They told him, as early as April 7 when the U.S. death count approached 13,000, that the coronavirus “crisis” had passed and it was time to begin considering how to get Americans “back to work.”

They told him that unproven antimalarial drugs would function as a COVID-19 miracle cure, and thus those who caught it had little to fear.

They told him, over and over again and as recently as this week, that face masks are ineffective in slowing the spread of the virus.

They told him that Biden’s diligence in trying to set a positive example by wearing a mask is “virtue-signaling” worthy of mockery. 

They told him that Biden’s refusal to hold public rallies was not a sign that he was adhering to the recommendations of public health officials but rather evidence that he was “hiding in his basement” to hide his purported dementia

They told him in June that journalists, public health officials, and Democrats were talking up the possibility of a “second wave” to keep him from campaigning (nearly 100,000 more people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. since then). 

“The bottom line for all of us is that the president and his campaign should simply not react to any of this alarmist COVID drivel from here on out,” concluded Laura Ingraham, whose opinion on the coronavirus Trump values so highly that she twice visited the White House to advise him.

Trump listened. He listened to it all.

Republican pollster Neil Newhouse reportedly warned his party’s leaders in a mid-March memo that Fox’s scornful coverage was influencing the party’s base not to take steps to protect themselves from the coronavirus. “Denial is not likely to be a successful strategy for survival,” he wrote, adding that Trump’s supporters were “putting themselves and their loved ones in danger.”

The president of the United States is one of those members of the Republican base. He learned about the virus through Fox’s dismissive coverage and refused to take steps to protect himself and those around him from it. And now he has it.