Laura Ingraham used to be a leading promoter of public mask usage. Now she frames it as a media conspiracy.
The throughline to Laura Ingraham’s coronavirus coverage is that she disagrees with whatever public health officials say. The Fox News host is still comparing the virus to the flu even after COVID-19 became one of the nation’s leading causes of death, and puffing up the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a cure despite the growing evidence that it is ineffective. And she has systematically denounced the recommendations that experts have offered to slow the coronavirus’s spread -- from social distancing to increased testing to contact tracing -- instead calling for a swift reopening of the economy.
Ingraham went after recommendations for Americans to wear masks in public on Wednesday night, describing them as an alarming social conditioning push by public health experts and the media to frighten people so they keep supporting state lockdowns. But here, her knee-jerk contrarianism runs into an inconvenient fact: Ingraham herself spent late March and early April talking up the benefits of widespread mask use. On her Twitter feed and Fox prime-time show, she portrayed them as an alternative to stay-at-home orders that would help get people back to work. Ingraham even used her Fox platform to teach viewers to make their own cloth masks.
At the time, public health officials were talking down the usefulness of masks for the general public, even though research suggested that their adoption could slow the spread of the virus. This was a communications failure, albeit one apparently intended to reserve the critically low supply of surgical and N95 masks for medical personnel. But as it became apparent that cloth masks were a viable alternative, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on April 3 changed its guidance and called for “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” Masks have since become more common in public spaces.
Ingraham lashed out at the mask push on her Fox program Wednesday.
“Our own experts have gone from masks aren't necessary to masks are essential and you have to wear them when you go jogging in just a few weeks time,” she said. “Now Rush Limbaugh made a great point as he always does on the radio the other day and he said the virus itself as it weakens and states start reopening, the media that have been selling panic, panic, panic for weeks and weeks and weeks, they have fewer images to sell their hysteria to justify continued lockdowns.”
“But the masks, well they're kind of a constant reminder,” she continued. “You see the mask and you think, you are not safe. You are not back to normal. Not even close.”
Ingraham’s argument is baffling for two reasons. First, there’s no need for the media to gin up a fake panic over the impact of the coronavirus -- on the day she made her comments, nearly 2,400 new U.S. COVID-19 deaths were reported, bringing the total past 60,000 (and those figures are almost certainly undercounts). Second, while Ingraham now portrays mask usage as an effort by public health experts and the media to justify ongoing lockdowns, she herself was an early promoter of masks, calling for their adoption as a way to avoid those orders.
The Fox host first addressed the mask issue on March 21, when she tweeted that mask use was a “new protocol” needed to help the nation “go back to work.”
The next day, she tweeted a YouTube video showing how to make your own “coronavirus facemask” out of a sheet.
The day after that, Ingraham posted a lengthy tweetstorm arguing for the need to reopen businesses as soon as possible to limit economic damage and pushing back against the idea that public health officials should be “the determinative voices in policy making.” She offered a series of “new protocols” that would be used “until this virus burns out,” including that “everyone within 6 feet of others MUST wear masks” in the workplace.
She added that if masks were unavailable, “they are fairly easy to make” at home, including “with cotton sheets.” She urged her followers to “be resourceful.”
That night, Ingraham aired the instructional YouTube video on her Fox broadcast, calling it “some incredibly important advice about what to do with that sheet you have lying around.”
Ingraham continued bolstering mask usage in early April. In an April 3 tweet, she criticized “the ‘experts’” for being “routinely wrong on issues big and small,” including “on wearing masks.”
Trump announced that afternoon that the CDC had changed its recommendation on masks. On her Fox show that night, Ingraham hosted Jeremy Howard, head of the organization Masks for All, which had called for widespread public mask use.
During the segment, Ingraham aired clips of videos showing how to make do-it-yourself cloth and paper masks, and asked Howard for his advice on mask construction.
Howard argued that “pretty much any kind of cloth cover will protect about 99% of the tiny droplets that fly out when you talk” which “are actually mainly causing this infection,” showed Ingraham’s audience how to make a covering using a t-shirt and paper towel, and described masks as “ the number one tool right now” to slow the spread of the virus.
The next day, after Trump suggested that churches might be able to have socially distanced outdoor services for Easter Sunday, Ingraham tweeted:
Ingraham continued expressing support for masks on her show through mid-April. On April 9, she suggested that rather than responding to the coronavirus by increasing vote-by-mail access, people could “wear a mask to vote.” On April 13, she said that wearing masks and gloves could get the country back to “the old normal.”
But then, after weeks of promoting the benefits of masks for the public, Ingraham changed her tune. Her new skepticism for the wisdom of masks coincided with protests by conservative activists against state governors’ stay-at-home orders, which the Fox host supported.
Rather than being encouraged that an idea she had previously championed had been adopted by public health officials, Ingraham repeatedly suggested that the shift over the value of masks meant that the country shouldn’t listen to those experts when they warn against quickly reopening the economy.
“The public needs information they can rely on that's consistent from those we’re relying on to keep us safe,” she said of the change on April 17. “And if we don't, then you can expect a lot of people who are getting pretty upset about these lockdowns across the country.”
“If we wait for Dr. Fauci's seal of approval to reopen America, we may not have an America to reopen, at least not one we recognize,” she argued on April 23. “Let's start testing the lame data and theories that have been shifting ever since this crisis began. First, it’s very confusing -- first, masks didn't help, now they're required in a lot of states.”
And by Wednesday, her own support for mask use had been dropped down the memory hole. Rather than a key step toward getting Americans back to work, the Fox host suggested that masks had become a sinister effort to prevent that from happening. For Ingraham, the experts and the press are always wrong -- even when they're agreeing with her.