Fox prime time marks the 500,000th U.S. pandemic death with the same lies that helped get us there

Fox primetime hosts

Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters

President Joe Biden mourned the “grim, heartbreaking milestone” of 500,000 Americans recorded killed in the COVID-19 pandemic in a sunset ceremony on Monday, where he spoke of the need to remember every victim as “extraordinary.” 

“We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow,” Biden said. “We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur or, on the news. We must do so to honor the dead. But, equally important, to care for the living.”

In the hours that followed, Fox News’ prime-time hosts also discussed the pandemic. But Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham did not reference its heartbreaking death toll a single time. Instead, they reiterated many of the same bogus talking points they used for the last year, which helped generate that massive body count.

Fox spent 2020 recklessly minimizing the danger posed by the pandemic. Led by its prime-time team, the network denounced social distancing measures, face masks, and the public health officials who supported them, championed purported miracle cures that didn’t work, and propped up kooks and charlatans, all in service of then-President Donald Trump’s political standing. Their coverage influenced Fox’s audience -- but the impact was much greater than that. The Fox-obsessed Trump altered federal pandemic policy to align with the network’s programming, even hiring regular guest radiologist Scott Atlas to help lead the White House coronavirus task force. The results were catastrophic.

Fox defended its coverage of the pandemic in a statement to Insider’s Tom Porter for a story published Tuesday morning. “FOX News Media has continuously provided viewers with the latest news on the global pandemic over the past year,” a Fox PR representative said. “Both FOX News Channel and FOX Business Network hosted over a dozen pandemic-related town halls over the last 11 months, while extensively promoting the use of mask-wearing and vaccinations to our audience via public service announcements across all of our key platforms.”

But the network’s coverage Monday night alone puts the lie to Fox’s claim to being a credible source for information about the pandemic. 

In spite of Fox’s claimed support for mask wearing, Ingraham used her show to once again falsely suggest there is no evidence of their effectiveness. She described Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, as an “ancient medical bureaucrat with a fancy title  spewing lies or unprovable accusations,” as an on-screen graphic described him and Dr. Anthony Fauci as “Liars in Labcoats.” 

Collins’ sin? He argued in an interview that masks are a “life-saving medical device” that could have saved tens of thousands of Americans if properly utilized. Ingraham went on to issue questions for Collins which called into question the efficacy of face masks, concluding, “The answers to these questions go directly to exposing some of the big COVID lies that our press — they’re either too stupid or too biased to uncover for themselves."

Later in the program, Ingraham hosted Atlas, who also took a shot at mask usage.

Contra Fox’s purported support for vaccination, Carlson once again used his show on Monday to promote a cowardly and pathetic brand of anti-anti-anti-vaccine commentary. “Since COVID, Bill Gates has gained extraordinary powers over what you can and cannot do to your own body,” Carlson warned, in a nod to conspiracy theories about the Microsoft founder. “Bill Gates would like you to take the coronavirus vaccine, and it’s not a request.”

Carlson sneered that he is not engaged in “what they deride as ‘vaccine denial,’ ‘anti-vaxxer,’”  but that people have concerns about the efficacy and side effects of a “vaccine that was produced faster than any vaccine in history.” Rather than attempting to report on those questions, Carlson simply left them floating out there for his audience. 

The Fox host also denounced various social distancing measures taken by states and cities in the U.S., claiming they had resulted only in “traumatized citizens and destroyed lives.”

Hannity devoted less time to the pandemic than the other Fox hosts. But he did make time to condemn how people “politicized” the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which he and other Fox hosts relentlessly championed early in the pandemic but which does not work as a COVID-19 cure.

As Hannity threw to Ingraham at the start of the 10 p.m. ET hour, the pair had a discussion rich with irony. “When you look at the full, full picture on COVID,” Ingraham commented, “there are going to be a lot of villains when the history is actually written on this.” Hannity responded that “a lot of people were dead wrong and it hurt a lot of us.” 

It’s certainly true that journalists, public health officials, and politicians made mistakes as they tried to grapple with a new and deadly virus with little help from Trump. But few made more consequential errors than Ingraham, Hannity, and their colleagues, and they can’t muster a shred of remorse for what they did.