Late on July 27, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook removed a hyperviral video riddled with misinformation related to the novel coronavirus posted by the far-right media outlet Breitbart. President Donald Trump and other prominent conservatives had shared the video, and its removal sparked cries of censorship from conservatives, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who on Tuesday night covered the story through cherry-picked snippets, outlandish accusations, and misrepresentation.
Carlson opened his show by claiming that with “the ruthlessness of Chinese authoritarians but with double the self-righteousness,” technology companies had collaborated with Democrats to pull the video from social media, viewing it as “a threat to Joe Biden's campaign.” Carlson claimed out-of-control tech companies were wielding unchecked power to silence “a group of physicians giving a press conference about medical advances in the fight against COVID.” In reality, the video was a hodgepodge of largely debunked medical claims.
The removed video contained myriad falsehoods, including that masks are unnecessary to curb the spread of the pandemic, a claim that has been widely refuted by scientists. The video claimed that a drug cocktail featuring hydroxychloroquine, a drug sensationalized by the Trump administration and its supporters despite being proved largely ineffective against COVID-19, is the “cure” for the virus. It also asserted that the studies showing the ineffectiveness of hydroxychloroquine were “fake science” funded by “fake pharma companies.”
Focusing on statements by Dr. Bob Hamilton that children should be able to go back to school and that the decision to send them back should not be dictated by “fear,” Carlson argued that returning children to school “represents the consensus among physicians and researchers around the world.” While many countries have successfully reopened their schools, research has found that those places have had low levels of infection rates and robust contact tracing systems, both of which are lacking in the U.S. Carlson ignored the shortcomings of the U.S.’s handling of COVID-19, instead asserting that some have argued against opening schools because “children must suffer so that Joe Biden can win that election. That is the imperative.”
Carlson also focused on statements made in the video by Dr. Stella Immanuel, a Houston-area doctor. Immanuel asserted that there is already a “cure” for COVID-19, a combination of the drugs hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, and zinc (a drug cocktail that was heavily promoted by Fox News) and criticized Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert. While Carlson said Immanuel’s claims were “harder for us to endorse,” noting that he doesn’t know if hydroxychloroquine is a “cure,” he misleadingly argued that the science around hydroxychloroquine is “not settled either way,” and doubled down on Immanuel’s critique of Fauci. Carlson claimed the video was removed from social media because Fauci is “too useful to the Biden campaign” and the consequence of disagreeing with him is that “you will disappear from the internet.”
An investigation by The Daily Beast uncovered a disturbing history of medical misinformation from Immanuel, who has publicly made a variety of serious, unfounded claims, particularly regarding gynecology.
In sermons posted on YouTube and articles on her website, Immanuel claims that medical issues like endometriosis, cysts, infertility, and impotence are caused by sex with “spirit husbands” and “spirit wives”—a phenomenon Immanuel describes essentially as witches and demons having sex with people in a dreamworld.
“They are responsible for serious gynecological problems,” Immanuel said. “We call them all kinds of names—endometriosis, we call them molar pregnancies, we call them fibroids, we call them cysts, but most of them are evil deposits from the spirit husband,” Immanuel said of the medical issues in a 2013 sermon. “They are responsible for miscarriages, impotence—men that can’t get it up.”
Immanuel, who also has a history of homophobic and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, has additionally claimed that alien DNA is being used in medications and that scientists were attempting to create a vaccine that would prevent people from becoming religious. From The Daily Beast:
Immanuel’s bizarre medical ideas don’t stop with demon sex in dreams. In a 2015 sermon that laid out a supposed Illuminati plan hatched by “a witch” to destroy the world using abortion, gay marriage, and children’s toys, among other things, Immanuel claimed that DNA from space aliens is currently being used in medicine.
“They’re using all kinds of DNA, even alien DNA, to treat people,” Immanuel said.
Immanuel’s website offers a prayer to remove a generational curse originally received from an ancestor but transmitted, in Immanuel’s telling, through placenta. Immanuel claimed in another 2015 sermon posted that scientists had plans to install microchips in people, and develop a “vaccine” to make it impossible to become religious.
Carlson trained his ire on The Daily Beast for reporting on Immanuel’s history, accusing the outlet of attempting to “destroy” her because she attended medical school in Africa. (Immanuel was born in Cameroon, has said she attended medical school in Nigeria, and is a registered physician in Texas.) Carlson also claimed that The Daily Beast was using Immanuel’s Cameroonian origins to suggest “she believes in witchcraft, because, you know, Africans do that.”
For her part, Immanuel praised The Daily Beast’s “summary” of her beliefs and encouraged anyone suffering from demon-related ailments to join her ministry.
Carlson concluded the segment by arguing that social media companies should not have the ability to monitor COVID-19 misinformation on their platforms because “censorship is always bad, whether it's imposed by Congress or whether it’s imposed by monopolies.” Even though health experts and local and federal governments have faced an uphill battle in combatting COVID-19 misinformation, Carlson doesn’t acknowledge that social media misinformation could have contributed to the deaths of almost 150,000 Americans, a death toll you would be hard-pressed to hear reported on Fox prime time.
Elsewhere on Fox News, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham also defended the Breitbart video. Ingraham took the opportunity to argue that its removal from social media platforms was part of a longstanding campaign to suppress the use of hydroxychloroquine. The Ingraham Angle has been a central hub for COVID-19 misinformation on Fox; a Media Matters study found that the Fox personalities and guests on the show made 63 unreliable claims over the span of just five days, and throughout the pandemic Ingraham has heavily promoted the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus, despite mounting evidence against its efficacy. On Hannity, host Sean Hannity lamented a 12-hour suspension Donald Trump Jr. received for posting the Breitbart video, arguing that “people should decide themselves if they want to believe things or not and hear and decide — hear all sides.”
It's clear that Fox News will not enforce any sort of standard for factual coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Carlson himself bragged on his show regarding social media policies against COVID-19 misinformation, “none of this applies to us at Fox News.”