The seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic is evident, particularly in the US, where the death toll is approaching 100,000. This reality, however, is not consistently reflected by President Donald Trump in his public remarks — and increasingly, Fox News’s Covid-19 coverage has begun to revert to the dangerously flippant tone it had in February and early March, when numerous anchors on America’s top-rated cable network characterized the situation as a “hoax” or “scam” being sensationalized by Democrats to hurt Trump.
This can be seen in the lack of coverage the coronavirus has gotten in a number of the network’s top-rated shows recently — as I’ve detailed, the public health crisis has started to take a back seat to the bogus “Obamagate” conspiracy theory — but also in how coverage of Covid-19 has been framed.
For instance, during an appearance on Jeanine Pirro’s Saturday night Fox News show, Eric Trump accused Democrats of conspiring to make a big deal out of the coronavirus — all so his dad won’t be able to hold rallies before November’s election.
“They think they’re taking away Donald Trump’s greatest tool, which is being able to go into an arena and fill it with 50,000 people every single time,” Eric Trump began. “You watch — they’ll milk it every single day between now and November 3. And guess what? After November 3, coronavirus will magically all of a sudden go away and disappear and everybody will be able to reopen. They’re trying to deprive him of his greatest asset.”
After saying Biden can’t go on stage without making a horrible blunder, Eric Trump accuses Democrats of manufacturing Coronavirus shut downs to prevent Trump from holding rallies. He goes on to claim after Election Day, “Coronavirus will magically disappear” like it’s a hoax pic.twitter.com/nytfmbVN8I— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) May 17, 2020
Instead of pushing back on Trump’s claim, Pirro echoed Trump’s conspiratorial mode of thinking by suggesting Democrats are using the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to expand mail-in voting and thereby steal elections from Republicans. (Never mind that the only evidence of large-scale mail-in election fraud occurring in recent history happened in 2018 on behalf of a Republican congressional candidate in North Carolina.)
“There’s a picture that should’ve been used of people in line at Walmart — we’ve all been there, Home Depot — you’re six feet away. You could do the same thing to vote,” Pirro said. “It’s a fear that’s being instilled. Are people buying it, though?”
This exchange came the same weekend that the US’s official coronavirus death toll surpassed 90,000, and as other countries that haven’t been hit nearly as hard continue to curtail large public gatherings. If there is a conspiracy to use the coronavirus to prevent Trump to hold rallies, it is apparently international.
Of course, there are straightforward reasons holding Trump rallies right now would be a bad idea. Coronavirus can be spread by asymptomatic people, and if even one such carrier were to attend such a gathering, it could turn into a “superspreader” event.
Nonpartisan experts within Trump’s government recognize this reality and have advised against large gatherings. Eric Trump and Pirro, however, opted for wild conspiracy theories aimed at weaponizing the pandemic against the president’s perceived political foes.
Fox News’s coronavirus coverage is taking cues from Trump — and so the network is back to conspiracy theories
The Pirro-Eric Trump exchange reflects how Fox News has echoed President Trump’s coronavirus rhetoric and changed its approach to its coverage to support the president’s messaging du jour.
From January through early March, Fox News hosts were downplaying the threat Covid-19 posed, running segments dismissing it as a “hoax” and less deadly than the flu. Of course, at that time, Trump was also downplaying the coronavirus. To cite a couple of notorious examples, he vowed on February 27 that the virus would go away on its own “like a miracle” without any Americans dying; then at a rally the next day, he dismissed Democratic criticisms of his administration’s response as “their new hoax.”
But in mid-March, as it became clear that the virus had already spread across the country and draconian measures would be needed to prevent as many as 2.2 million Americans from dying, Trump’s tone changed. Fox News changed along with him — the network even went as far as to fire anchor Trish Regan following her widely criticized monologue about the “Coronavirus Impeachment Scam.”
HANNITY, March 9: "This scaring the living hell out of people -- I see it, again, as like, let's bludgeon Trump with this new hoax."— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 19, 2020
HANNITY, March 18: "By the way, this program has always taken the coronavirus seriously. We've never called the virus a hoax." pic.twitter.com/yLKpojA7BI
Trump has now swung back in the other direction. Even without the per-day number of cases and deaths yet showing a clear downward trend, he’s urging states to ignore the guidance provided by his administration’s coronavirus task force and open businesses in time to resuscitate the economy ahead of November’s election.
Once again, Fox News is right there with him. Instead of focusing on the public health crisis, the network’s coronavirus coverage is increasingly focused on the small numbers of protesters who have agitated against stay-at-home orders and business owners who want to reopen as soon as possible.
Fox & Friends is banking on a live confrontation this morning between a New Jersey gym owner and the state police. pic.twitter.com/uVUsH0EbO4— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) May 18, 2020
And in a string of recent, lengthy interviews, the network has allowed the president a friendly forum to advance his campaign to distract from problems with the economy and the federal government’s coronavirus response — like those in which Trump has been allowed to expound on conspiracy theories featuring his political rivals.
So now, Fox News and Trumpworld are basically back where they started — dismissing the coronavirus as a hoax that Democrats are weaponizing against Trump. The big difference this time around is they now have more than 90,000 reasons to know better.