Recent studies by Harvard University’s Kennedy School Misinformation Review, the National Bureau of Economic Research, and the University of Chicago found that infection and mortality rates for the coronavirus are higher in areas where Fox News reaches the most viewers. This, as the daily number of coronavirus infections and deaths are increasing at an alarming rate.
Together, these studies provide statistical analysis confirming that conservative media outlets like Fox, Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing spun news and commentary programs disseminate misinformation about the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The views expressed often repeat President Trump’s talking points that dangerously contradict guidelines issued by public health officials, while dissuading many in their audience from adopting protective measures such as wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and observing stay-at-home orders.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Andrew Lawrence, deputy director of Rapid Response at Media Matters for America. Here, he discusses his group’s new report titled, “Fox News Pushed Coronavirus Misinformation 253x Between July 6th & 10th,” which adds to the earlier studies that examined the relationship between right-wing media and the spread of the coronavirus.
ANDREW LAWRENCE: This was way over the course of five days. We had 253 different instances and this goes from everything. Fox News tries to separate their programming into opinion shows versus real news shows. And, they tell the real news shows for actually giving information to people and for not being as biased. But we found that they were actually sharing a lot of misinformation that just wasn’t true. And the thing is, with this snapshot shot in time — July 6 through 10 — there was a lot of talk about reopenings and masks and stuff like that, but it changes what they attack. It just kinda changes week to week. I mean, I saw Tucker Carlson, who’s, you know, the face of the franchise at this point for Fox News, say that not only do lockdowns not work, but they actually help spread the virus. There’s just no evidence for anything like that.
And now what they’re on right now is just the masks. They’re convinced that masks not only don’t help, but will make people sicker. And again, there’s just no evidence for this and the president, you know, the president listens to them and it puts all of us in danger when we do this. But I think just the sheer number – 253 different pieces of misinformation over a five-day period was just really stunning. And a lot of this misinformation comes from politicizing recommended public health measures that have come down from the CDC or Dr. Fauci or really anyone else, if it doesn’t align with their current worldview.
And then there’s a lot of stuff about reopening schools right now as well, just kind of brushing aside the public health concerns that everybody has and just sort of brushing it aside. It’s sort of the same thing that they did with reopening the economy. It was just sorta like, let’s just do it and not take any precautions really. And that’s what’s so scary because I think that, you know, most people want schools to reopen. Everybody wants the economy reopened and they want to be able to leave their house and go on vacation, but you want to be able to do it safely. And, that’s where the frustration comes in. It’s that there’s just no plan to do these things safely because they’re just not concerned with that. What this sort of stems from is that the right and conservatives, Republicans and especially Trump just sort of got it in their head that the economy was going to be how they were going to win in 2020. That was how they were going to beat Joe Biden.
And so that’s all they’re fixated on and you know, things change, the circumstances change. And, you know, I really feel like Trump would be doing an awful lot better in the polls right now, had he focused on actually beating this thing. And you look at what other countries have done – the way that they brought the curve down to almost zero, and they’re essentially back to normal at this point. And that’s what’s so frustrating. So, you know, their economy is starting to get back up and going again. I saw South Korea is like down to 4 or 3 percent unemployment right now, and we’re still in the midst of this and nobody knows what to do. There’s no leadership and it’s again, you know, the president is taking his cues from this network, this conservative news network that is trying to tell him what he wants to hear, I guess. It’s confusing as to why they’re doing it. But it’s absolutely happening. And we’re seeing the results. I mean, 130,000, I think we might’ve passed 140,000 dead people — dead Americans at this point. So it’s really, it’s really frustrating. It’s really harming this country. I mean, there’s just no doubt about it.
SCOTT HARRIS: One avenue for holding Fox News and other outlets that are part of this right-wing coronavirus disinformation echo chamber is through their advertisers. In your report, you note that Amazon, Kraft, Heinz, Verizon and other large corporations sponsor advertising on Fox News during these programs where disinformation is disseminated. What can be said about holding these companies accountable? Is a boycott part of an agenda that would be at all constructive at this point?
ANDREW LAWRENCE: It may be the only recourse available to you know to people that are concerned about this type of thing. And, you know, we have seen success with things like that in the past. I remember when Glenn Beck was on Fox News when he got booted off the air. It was because he lost advertisers. His ratings were still up, but he got booted because he lost advertisers. Now, Fox News has sort of dug their heels in a little bit with that.
I mean, Tucker Carlson currently, because of all of his racism doesn’t have any advertisers. He’s got mostly Fox News promos and a couple of MyPillow ads here or there. He doesn’t have any advertisers, but I think Fox News just has dug in their heels and they don’t want to feel bullied around. And so, you know, at that point they’ve gotta be losing money on that show in particular, but they keep him on air almost out of spite it seems like. So it becomes very frustrating when you don’t know what the recourse is, but all you can do is keep pushing forward and keep pointing it out.
For more information, visit Media Matters for America at mediamatters.org.