White House coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas is urging President Donald Trump to allow the virus to spread through the country’s population in order to build “herd immunity,” and the administration has already taken steps in that direction, according to a Monday report from The Washington Post. Public health experts inside and outside the government warned the Post that a “herd immunity” strategy may prove ultimately ineffective if people who recover from COVID-19 can become reinfected. And it could result in a staggering death toll -- a Post analysis found that “it may require 2.13 million deaths to reach a 65 percent threshold of herd immunity.”
Why is Atlas, a radiologist who worked for a right-wing think tank before joining the administration earlier this month, in a position to give the president recommendations that could result in the deaths of millions of Americans? Trump had been seeking a doctor who opposed the cautious views of top health advisers Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci, and “Atlas caught Trump’s attention with a spate of Fox News appearances in recent months,” according to the Post report. Atlas’ hiring was another case of the Trump-Fox feedback loop shaping crucial administration decisions -- and in this case, the results could prove catastrophic.
Atlas used Fox’s airwaves to tell the president exactly what he wanted to hear. He regularly downplayed the threat posed by the virus over 20 Fox appearances between the end of April and his August hiring, as Media Matters documented. He repeatedly used those interviews to push for swiftly reopening businesses and schools based on the false premise that young people “do not have a significant problem, they do not have the serious complications, they do not die” from COVID-19. While providing Atlas with a platform, Fox hosts frequently denounced Fauci and other public health experts. That likely influenced Trump’s desire for a new adviser who would put a doctor’s gloss on his bogus notion that the coronavirus poses little threat.
Trump watches hours of Fox programming each day, he has repeatedly hired people whose Fox hits appealed to him, and he often consults with network hosts like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham on communications strategy and policy. His Fox obsession regularly powers his administration’s actions, and played a key role in his response throughout the pandemic. When Trump downplayed the pandemic in its early days, then briefly took it more seriously, promoted untested drugs as possible cures, boosted protesters demanding the reopening of the economy, expressed disdain for masks, and ended U.S. funding for the World Health Organization, he was responding to the network’s coverage.
Fox’s coronavirus coverage is a public health menace, and we are all living -- or dying -- with the consequences.