As the coronavirus continues to spread worldwide and throughout the U.S., some Fox News hosts have actively downplayed its severity, accusing Democrats and the media of pushing a hoax to undercut President Donald Trump. In stark contrast, Fox News brass is taking the outbreak very seriously.
In a Thursday memo to staff, obtained by The Daily Beast, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and network president Jay Wallace warned employees about the risks of COVID-19, and announced steps the network will take to combat its spread, including telecommuting, reduced in-studio guest bookings, and enhanced office cleanings.
Fox News brass also emphasized the channel’s duty to keep viewers informed with accurate information, underscoring the seriousness of the unfolding epidemiological situation.
“Please keep in mind that viewers rely on us to stay informed during a crisis of this magnitude and we are providing an important public service to our audience by functioning as a resource for all Americans,” the memo said.
While the memo called on employees to keep in mind that viewers trust the network to keep them informed in a time of a growing crisis, many of Fox’s most prominent personalities and hosts have repeatedly downplayed and minimized the risks posed by the virus that has already killed dozens of Americans and more than 4,000 people worldwide.
Earlier this week, Fox Business Network host Trish Regan delivered a breathless bonkers rant in which she described the crisis as “another attempt to impeach” Trump while accusing the “liberal media” of using the disease to “demonize and destroy the president. As she bemoaned the “crescendo” of Democratic hate, an on-air graphic blared “Coronavirus Impeachment Scam.”
Fellow FBN host Lou Dobbs, one of Trump’s biggest boosters at the network, complained on Monday that “the national left-wing media” was “playing up fears” of the coronavirus—despite simultaneously reporting that the coronavirus had “now infected 113,000 people” in over 100 countries.
Another Fox Business host, Charles Payne, in a bit of an ironic twist, waved off concerns over the economic impacts that the mass cancellations of events, pointing out on Tuesday’s broadcast of Fox & Friends that “last week Broadway attendance went up” and “movie receipts were normal.” On Thursday, amid a deluge of shutdowns, New York announced that Broadway shows would be closed for a month. In a Monday appearance on America’s Newsroom, Payne said that people should take advantage of plunging gas prices to “go somewhere.”
Fox News primetime host Sean Hannity, meanwhile, took to his radio show on Wednesday to suggest that maybe this was all the “Deep State” trying to take down the Trump presidency, citing a QAnon conspiracy theorist to say that it “may be true” that “coronavirus fear-mongering by the deep state will go down in history as one of the biggest frauds to manipulate economies, suppress dissent, and push mandated medicines.”
The Five co-host Jesse Watters went even further to brush off concerns over the impact of the pandemic, declaring earlier this month that Americans should use the “power of positive thinking” before patting himself on the back for sitting next to an “Asian guy” on the subway and then ordering Chinese food.
It hasn’t just been Fox’s conservative opinion hosts, however, who have seemingly shrugged off the dangers of the virus. While interviewing Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) this week—Scott has since gone into self-quarantine due to contact with an infected individual—Fox News anchor Ed Henry was openly cavalier about Florida’s first two coronavirus deaths, noting that both victims were elderly and had recently traveled abroad, “so when you hear the context, it’s not quite as scary.”
To be sure, one of Fox’s biggest primetime stars has underscored the seriousness of the outbreak. In recent segments, Tucker Carlson has warned viewers that “people you probably voted for” are “minimizing” the virus’ dangers.
And several prominent guests on Hannity’s primetime show have done the same: Geraldo Rivera, for example, called out Trump for continuing to shake hands with citizens despite all expert medical advice; and top immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci used the platform to remind viewers that despite some dismissiveness, the coronavirus is more lethal than the seasonal flu.
But clearly not all Fox News shows seemed to follow the memo.
During an interview on Fox & Friends on Friday, guest Jerry Falwell Jr. said Americans were “overreacting” to the outbreak, adding that the novel coronavirus was Trump critics’ “next attempt to get Trump.” The Liberty University head went even further, speculating that the virus could be a North Korean bioweapon—a completely unfounded, unsupported conspiracy theory.