Report: Fox News is worried about legal action after misleading viewers about coronavirus

Vanity Fair's Gabe Sherman: Fox News is concerned their downplaying of Coronavirus exposes them “to potential legal action” from misled viewers

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Citation From the March 29, 2020, edition of MSNBC's AM Joy

JOY REID (HOST): People who are watching cable news are a lot more, you know, in the "news junkie" category right?

And then in the case of that, your choices are MSNBC or CNN or, if you're choosing Fox, it's because it favors the Republicans. It's because it's news that favors your world view. That's why you're watching it. So, I think that people assume that everyone knows the failures of the Trump administration in dealing with this. They'll find out eventually when it hits them. But just in watching -- depending on what you're watching, you know more or you know less. 

GABE SHERMAN (SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, VANITY FAIR): Oh, without question, I think that has been a fixture of this presidency from day one. If you look at polls that show Republicans' views on certain issues, it's a completely different reality than people who gather their news from a wide array of sources.

And I think what's really interesting, I think unique about the Coronavirus story is that Fox News tried to do their original playbook, which was dismiss it as a hoax, say that this is another partisan attempt by Democrats to hurt Donald Trump, and this was the case where they could not prevent reality. Fox News is a very powerful media organization, but it cannot stop people from dropping dead. And what happened is that people did start dying. We did see hot spots in New York, on the West Coast and now we're seeing one in the deep South, which is getting closer to Trump country, and Fox News has had to pivot to actually cover this as a real story.

And so, you know, the president's handling of this is going to be viewed ultimately by how we get out of it, but this is a case where at least on the macro story of us understanding of what is happening in America, Fox viewers are now confronting what the rest of us have known since February and early March, is that this is a global pandemic that is unprecedented in American history. 

REID: Yeah, and I mean, to stay you with for a moment Gabe, I mean the irony is Fox News is in New York. It's literally across the street from MSNBC. It's in Rockefeller Plaza. It's not in -- They are in the middle of it with all of the other New Yorkers. We saw Trish Regan, who had a show on Fox Business, come out and essentially just label it all a fraud. She's now no longer there. I don't know what happened with her show but I guess it's not airing anymore. You've had Fox anchors who are going, or as likely as anyone who is on this panel to know someone who gets sick with COVID-19. It's interesting to have to watch them have to confront reality, that as you say, is deadly reality, that they can't cover for Trump on this. There's no way they can keep doing it. I wonder if the same sort of dynamic is going to happen with Sinclair, which is ten times -- it's Fox times ten  -- and in your traffic and weather together and they've tried to also spin things in his favor. They do add commentary from people like former Trump officials. How are they handling it? 

SHERMAN: Yea. I mean, this is the question, what's more pernicious or deceptive about Sinclair is that their local newscasts are not labeled as a Sinclair channel. You don't know that it has a right-wing ideology behind the owners of the local news station, so you're absorbing it as if it's just straight network news. I just want to get back to the Fox of it all real quick. When I've been talking to Fox insiders over the last few days, there's a real concern inside the network that their early downplaying of the coronavirus actually exposes Fox News to potential legal action by viewers who maybe were misled and actually have died from this. I've heard Trish Regan's being taken off the air is, you know, reflective of this concern that Fox News is in big trouble by downplaying this virus and The New York Times reported days ago that the Murdoch family was privately taking the coronavirus seriously. The Murdochs, of course, own Fox News. So, they were taken personal steps to protect themselves while anchors like Trish Regan and Sean Hannity were telling viewers that it's a hoax and putting themselves in potentially mortal danger. So I think this is a case where Fox's coverage, if it actually winds up being proved that people died because of it, this is a new terrain in terms of Fox being possibly held liable for their actions. 

REID: Interesting. It will be interesting to see how long they let Dr. Oz keep going on and on and on with the things that he's been saying on that network given what you just said.

Media Matters has extensively documented the failures of Fox News regarding the novel coronavirus / COVID-19.