Fox News recently aired a new one-off documentary on its streaming platform from notorious coronavirus skeptic Alex Berenson, the one-time New York Times reporter who has recently been embraced by right-wing media for his contrarian stances on the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 82,000 Americans.
With very little fanfare, the two episodes of the show COVID Contrarian premiered on Fox Nation, the network’s subscription streaming service, on May 12. Besides a write-up on the channel’s website, there appeared to be no other mention of the program’s launch from the infamous ex-reporter and current spy novelist.
A Fox News spokesperson confirmed to The Daily Beast that this is just a one-off with Berenson and he will not be hosting a permanent show on Fox Nation. The two-part broadcast is part of the streaming service's ongoing Fox Nation 101 series, which focuses on specific news and cultural topics.
Since the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, Berenson has drawn outsized attention over his relentless and non-stop criticism of what he sees as “anti-Trump media” and public-health experts overhyping fears about the severity and lethality of the coronavirus.
Even as the death toll has sharply risen over the past several weeks, Berenson has continued to argue that stay-at-home orders, shutdowns, and social-distancing guidelines were a severe overreaction to the pandemic. He has also insisted that children should immediately be allowed to return to school as the virus poses no real risk to them or young people in general.
In the first two episodes of the digital-only series, Berenson took aim at the media, claiming that they have “played a real and destructive role in worsening this crisis” due to bias against President Donald Trump.
“They view Trump as having failed them and possibly costing them their lives,” he said on the show. “And the anger was off the charts and the groupthink and the hysteria went off the charts.”
Berenson also raged against the projection models that have wildly varied over the course of the pandemic, something that has been a major feature of his relentless social-media posting on the virus. Pointing to the models’ initial projections of large-scale death and overwhelmed health systems if no preventive actions were taken, Berenson groused that those projections “have driven a response that is economically and societally destructive."
Despite the steadily rising death toll and projections surging with the easing of shelter-in-place orders, Berenson asserted in one episode that COVID-19 isn’t all that lethal, highlighting the large number of deaths of older individuals while complaining that the media has focused too much attention on the “outlier cases” of younger people dying.
Berenson’s contrarianism on the virus and its deadly impact has received intense pushback from public-health experts. Regarding his repeated assertions that young people are not at risk from coronavirus, assistant professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Medicine Gregg Gonsalves told Vanity Fair last month that there “are millions of young people who would be at risk.”
“Think of all of the young people who have had cancer or are obese or used to smoke,” Gonsalves added. “The probabilities of being of 25 versus 85 are better, but even if the death rate is .04 for people under 50, that means tens of thousands of people could die if nothing was done.”
As for Berenson’s claims that U.S. health-care systems were never overwhelmed by the virus, thus proving how wrong the models have been, Yale School of Medicine’s Joseph Vinetz explained that Berenson isn’t telling the whole story.
“Why is this guy even getting any oxygen?” he told Vanity Fair. “People are under-using the system in terms of the regular catastrophic circumstances like heart attacks or strokes or elective procedures, so we don’t overwhelm the hospital system, so that’s why some medical workers are being laid off.”
“The fear of getting COVID-19 [is] why people are not coming into the hospitals for other health issues and for elective surgeries,” he continued. “It’s to free up the facilities for COVID patients. He should stick to his novel writing. He should go back to school to learn some science.”
Experts in the field loudly disputing the ex-Times reporter’s “cherry-picked” findings is nothing new for Berenson. His anti-marijuana book Tell Your Children, which claimed weed causes violence and psychosis, was picked apart by scientists and academics. Two psychology professors with more than 70 years of drug research between them, for instance, found his “assertions to be misinformed and reckless.”
Even while Berenson’s coronavirus trutherism has found a home in the right-wing media ecosphere, some of his wilder claims have been disputed by conservatives. During one appearance on Fox News’ Hannity last month, even host Sean Hannity loudly pushed back when Berenson said “almost anybody under 30 is at no risk to this” virus.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa—that changed though. Hold on a second, Alex. That changed in the middle,” the Fox News star interrupted, ending the interview by noting that he doesn’t “fully agree” with Berenson’s claims.