Insurance companies are among the top sponsors of Fox’s dangerous coronavirus and climate coverage
Forty-three insurance companies ran more than 3,000 advertisements on Fox News throughout March and April, making the insurance industry among the major sponsors* of Fox’s coronavirus coverage, according to internal Media Matters data. Household names Allstate, GEICO, Liberty Mutual, Progressive, and USAA -- which combined ran more than 1,700 ads -- accounted for more than half of all insurance company ads featured on Fox News during the two-month period. Four of the five companies -- Allstate, Liberty Mutual, Progressive, and USAA -- were among the network’s top 10 advertisers.
Insurance companies pride themselves on their commitment to scientific rigor and risk management. Yet they continue to be among the biggest advertisers on Fox at a time when the network is under intense scrutiny -- and possible liability -- for spreading dangerous misinformation about, and downplaying the severity of, the coronavirus outbreak.
Among other issues, Fox’s coronavirus coverage has included false claims that the pandemic is a preview of the world under bold climate change policies like the Green New Deal, attacked the modeling that informs COVID-19 and climate change predictions, and downplayed the coronavirus by employing tactics long used to deny climate change.
But even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, these insurance companies stood by Fox while it routinely misled its viewership on the occurrence and causes of catastrophic climate change.
Publicly, these companies have acknowledged the severe threat of both COVID-19 and the climate crisis. But by continuing to sponsor Fox, these brands expose the cavern between their words and actions and associate themselves with a dangerous hostility to facts and science.
As of May 27, none of the above-mentioned companies had publicly pulled its ads from Fox News.
* Insurance companies accounted for 10% of all advertisements run on Fox for March and April, and 4% of overall advertisers.
Insurance companies are funding a network whose coverage is “a danger to public health.”
Six different public polls released last month showed that Fox viewers were more likely to believe the press had exaggerated the risks of the coronavirus -- and were taking the pandemic less seriously -- than people who get their news from other sources.
On April 6, Vanity Fair reported that Fox is “bracing for a litany of public-interest lawsuits and letters of condemnation for pedaling misinformation for weeks prior to coronavirus’s explosion in the U.S.” -- misinformation that many have deemed an endangerment to the public. Outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Rolling Stone have published scathing critiques of Fox’s dangerous coronavirus coverage. And on April 1, 74 journalism professors and journalists sent a letter to Fox News leadership “bashing the network's coverage of the coronavirus pandemic as a ‘danger to public health.”
Media Matters has systematically documented the network’s deceitful coronavirus coverage. And while much of the widespread criticism of the network has stemmed from its damaging early reports, Fox continues to downplay the severity of the pandemic, spread dangerous misinformation, and provide political cover for President Donald Trump at the expense of fact-based news -- tactics that have been sharpened and honed from years of climate denial.
The network’s prime-time and morning show hosts -- those presenting its top-rated shows -- have been the worst offenders. The hosts of Fox & Friends along with prime-time hosts Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, and Sean Hannity are all culpable for deceiving their viewers about the coronavirus, including by promoting unproven treatments and miracle cures.
For instance, Fox News' Fox & Friends, has pushed untested antimalarial drugs to treat COVID-19. The program has been a top promoter of this class of medication, including hydroxychloroquine, which has been disproved as a treatment for COVID-19. Over a two-week period, Fox & Friends promoted the treatment 76 times.
Fox’s three prime-time programs also heavily peddled hydroxychloroquine. The Ingraham Angle had 84 promotional mentions, Hannity had 53, and Tucker Carlson Tonight had 22.
Since the outbreak took over the news cycle, these three programs have consistently downplayed coronavirus’s threat, spread misinformation about the pandemic, and attacked experts and scientists and their recommendations, fueling ill-informed protests to reopen the parts of the country against stay-at-home orders intended to protect the public health.
Progressive is a leading sponsor of Hannity, and USAA is among the lead advertisers for both The Ingraham Angle and Tucker Carlson Tonight. Allstate, GEICO, Liberty Mutual, Progressive, and USAA are all sponsors of Fox & Friends.
The network’s dangerous coronavirus misinformation has also not been siloed in its top-rated opinion shows. Fox’s so-called “straight news” programs have also downplayed the severity of the outbreak, promoted misleading information, and given a platform to those defying the stay-at-home order.
For example, on the April 17 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, Fox aired a package featuring footage from protests in Virginia and Minnesota, with Fox News correspondent Mike Tobin quoting the group “Liberate Minnesota” calling the stay-at-home order “an overreaction.” Co-anchor Ed Henry then interviewed a Michigan sheriff who is defying Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order in that state. The same day, anchor Neil Cavuto, on Fox News’ Your World, speaking alongside footage of a person holding a sign calling COVID-19 a lie, wished Californians protesting the closure of Huntington Beach “Good luck!”
Allstate, GEICO, Liberty Mutual, Progressive, and USAA are all sponsors of America’s Newsroom and Your World, along with other “straight news” programs.
Denial of climate change poses its own threat to public health. The World Health Organization has called climate change “the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.” The agency estimates that climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year between 2030 and 2050, and “direct damage costs to health” will cost between $2 billion and $4 billion per year by 2030.
Fox News hosts and guests routinely spread climate science denial, mock or downplay the threat of climate change, and mislead their viewers about potential climate solutions. And commentators on the network have heavily promoted fossil fuels. Like with the network’s dangerous coronavirus coverage, this climate denialism is not a problem just on Fox's controversial prime-time shows -- Tucker Carlson Tonight, The Ingraham Angle, and Hannity --but also on the network's so-called “news” programs.
In 2019 alone, climate denial narratives on Fox ran the gamut, from claims that “there’s science on both sides of this issue” to dismissals of the climate crisis as “medieval witchcraft.” And Fox repeatedly referred to those advocating for a response to the climate crisis as alarmist and hysterical.
Many of the network’s most outrageous and harmful climate lies appeared on its top-rated shows. For instance, on the April 30 edition of Fox & Friends, climate change denier and Fox regular Marc Morano made the absurd claim that CO2 is not pollution because we “exhale carbon dioxide.” Fox anchor Jesse Wattters, appearing on the April 4 edition of Hannity, told the host, “You can fight climate change with suntan lotion. It's not that big of a deal.” And on the March 27 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, the host suggested that climate change may make natural disasters less catastrophic.
Fox’s misinformation is dangerous to the public, but its climate denial also poses a direct threat to the insurance industry.
Fox’s climate denial should have sent insurance companies packing long ago
In 2019, the insurance industry ranked climate change as the top risk of the year. This designation aligns with the massive damages caused by climate-fueled events in the past several years. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the total cost of disasters over the last five years, from 2015 to 2019, exceeded $525 billion.
Companies that insure property -- like Allstate, GEICO, Liberty Mutual, Progressive, and USAA -- are among those responsible for covering those damages. Insurance claims from the California wildfires in 2017 and 2018 alone totaled more than $26 billion.
Delayed climate action is a huge risk for insurance companies, and no news network has done more to sow doubt on the issue, spread related misinformation, and undermine science -- key factors for climate inaction in the U.S. -- than Fox.
By advertising on Fox programs, these companies are risking having their name associated with science denialism and misinformation. For companies with a major interest in limiting damage from climate change, this is a particularly dangerous position to be in.
Insurance companies have been silent about Fox but vocal about the seriousness of the pandemic -- and the risk of climate disasters
For an April 1 story on Fox’s top advertisers, The Hollywood Reporter reached out to Liberty Mutual, GEICO, Progressive, and Allstate to inquire “whether the companies plan to continue buying ads on the Fox News Channel amid the pandemic” given the network’s highly criticized coronavirus coverage. The companies did not respond (USAA was not contacted).
Meanwhile, these companies are acknowledging the gravity of the outbreak in public statements and touting the new ways their businesses are being responsive to the needs of their customers and employees in the wake of the pandemic.
Here are the companies’ public statements (from their Twitter accounts) on the coronavirus pandemic, along with the number of ads they have run supporting Fox’s dangerous coverage:
Liberty Mutual ran a whopping 606 ads on the network throughout March and April.
Progressive ran 413 ads on Fox News throughout March and April.
Allstate ran 373 ads on Fox News throughout March and April.
USAA ran 316 ads on Fox News throughout March and April.
GEICO ran 90 ads on Fox News during March.
Insurance companies’ response to the outbreak, which has included offering auto insurance customers rebates and giving customers free identity protection, payment relief, and extended coverage, seems appropriate, but it does not absolve them of the responsibility they bear for supporting Fox. And the outreach The Hollywood Reporter has done to bring Fox’s dangerous coverage to their attention -- as well as the efforts by their customers -- relieves them of any claim to plausible deniability.
In fact, GEICO has acknowledged the criticism from its customers by hiding responses posted to its Twitter account that challenge the company’s ongoing sponsorship of Fox.
Less pressure has been applied to the insurance industry for its ongoing sponsorship of Fox’s long history of climate denial. But Fox’s role in spreading climate misinformation over the past several decades is well-known and well-documented.
Nevertheless, in 2018 and 2019 -- a period when record extreme weather devastated the country and rocked the insurance industry -- these five companies collectively ran more than 28,000 ads on the network, according to internal Media Matters data. For the two-year period, Allstate ran 7,909 ads on Fox, Liberty Mutual ran 7,558, GEICO ran 5,600, Progressive ran 3,962 ads, and USAA ran 3,150.
On the threat of climate change, Liberty Mutual said in 2019, the same year the company was Fox’s third biggest advertiser, according to internal Media Matters data:
“We see firsthand how a warming world can destroy the lives and assets of entire communities. Extreme weather has almost become the new norm as climate change pushes our planet into a new, more volatile state. Recent years have been a reminder of that.
“As an insurer, we see the impact of climate change firsthand as we help our policyholders recover from loss and protect what matters most to them. Environmental sustainability, and the impact of climate change, has been a key focus for us for some time.”
In response to the extreme weather events that hit the U.S. in 2018, Allstate -- Fox’s second biggest advertiser that year, according to internal Media Matters data -- issued this statement:
“In 2018, the Allstate family of companies and those we serve felt the impact of severe weather. Although our business withstood the effects of elevated natural catastrophes, we understand the need to continue to build adaptability and resiliency to climate change into our business activities.”
Despite these acknowledgements, these companies that are on the hook for billions in damages caused by climate events have collectively spent millions sponsoring the denial of climate change.
Fox News has long been toxic for advertisers, and many have dropped the network because of its dangerous coverage
Even before people gained this heightened awareness of Fox as a purveyor of misinformation and lies, advertisers have been distancing themselves from the network.
For example, in March 2018, the backlash against Laura Ingraham’s attack on Parkland High School mass shooting survivor David Hogg spurred more than 20 companies to issue public statements saying they would remove their ads from her program. And in December 2018, Tucker Carlson claimed that immigration makes America “dirtier.” After Media Matters highlighted Carlson’s racist comments, at least 31 advertisers pulled ads from his show, including insurance company Pacific Life.
In March 2019, The New Yorker published a definitive piece on Fox News’ role as a propaganda outlet for Trump. By then, the brand had become so toxic that after The Walt Disney Company acquired 20th Century Fox in 2019, it dropped the word Fox to “prevent consumers from mistakenly thinking the movie studio has anything to do with Rupert Murdoch’s polarizing Fox News media empire.”
Since 2017, more than 70 companies have publicly announced that they would no longer advertise on Hannity’s, Ingraham’s, or Carlson’s prime-time shows, which makes the insurance industry one of the few that are still standing behind the network.
Allstate, GEICO, Liberty Mutual, Progressive, and USAA should have ditched Fox long ago, but to continue to sponsor the network in the face of a public health emergency for which it has played an aggravating role is extremely risky business.