President Donald Trump has recently begun to suggest social-distancing and quarantining measures may need to end soon so as to prevent economic damage. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has also become a running narrative pushed among many of the president’s favorite Fox News personalities.
Late Sunday night, the president took to Twitter to fire off an all-caps tweet hinting he’d consider no longer calling on Americans to socially distance—a practice that experts agree is a key way to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” the president exclaimed, adding that he’ll make a decision next week.
Perhaps uncoincidentally, Fox News host Steve Hilton made the exact same argument hours earlier.
During the Sunday evening broadcast of The Next Revolution, the one-time adviser to conservative former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron criticized Britain’s Great Recession austerity measures as a way to reject health experts’ current policy recommendations to “flatten the curve” on coronavirus cases.
Noting that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said he preferred “overreacting” to a pandemic, Hilton fumed that it was “easy for him to say” because the doctor will still have a job no matter what. “Our ruling class and their TV mouthpieces—whipping up fear over this virus,” he added. “They can afford an indefinite shutdown, working Americans can’t, they'll be crushed by it.”
The Fox host called upon the president to move forward after the administration’s 15-day plan ends next week by announcing that “we came together to slow the spread” but it’s time to get back to work. “Keep the ban on large gatherings but stop the total shutdown for everyone and start the total protection of the elderly and those most likely to need hospitalization,” Hilton concluded. “Don’t turn a public-health crisis into America's worst catastrophe.”
Hilton was likely inspired by a Medium post that was widely shared by conservatives and Fox News personalities before it was deleted for violating the publishing platform’s rules (and the post is now currently hosted by a fringe right-wing blog). The blog, written by self-described “technologist” Aaron Ginn, claimed that the “community-based spread and airborne transmission” is “not a threat” and, therefore, schools and businesses should reopen to avoid any further damage to the economy. The post, of course, has been thoroughly scrutinized and debunked by several experts who have noted Ginn’s use of faulty data to back his claims.
Nevertheless, the post found a receptive audience among Fox News stars, including Laura Ingraham, Brit Hume, and even Bret Baier, Fox’s chief political anchor often dubbed as one of the network’s “straight news” anchors.
Ingraham went even further, piggybacking off Trump’s tweet by posting a lengthy thread of her own on Monday morning, fulminating that doctors “should not be the determinative voices in policy making now or at the end of 15 days” because of the potential economic impact of lengthy social-distancing.
The primetime Fox News host added that if only businesses and workers “knew this was almost over,” the economic “recovery would be easier.” In terms of avoiding the spread of the disease, Ingraham offered a solution: “The sick—even just the sniffles—must stay home from work. Workplaces must police. No cheating by employees!” In another tweet, the Fox star offered a bizarre recommendation on top of quarantining only the elderly population: Have churches play concerts outside of senior centers.
The pro-Trump personality also made sure that her 3.2-million Twitter followers, and presumably the president, were able to read Ginn’s discredited post, as she tweeted out a link to its new location.
The morning after suggesting that he’d loosen coronavirus restrictions in an effort to jumpstart the economy, President Trump also went on a re-tweeting binge that included Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren, who groused about the isolation measures: “So we are all basically on house arrest but they are letting the prisoners out? Sounds like a brilliant idea,” Lahren wrote.
Charlie Kirk, a frequent Fox News guest and founder of conservative campus group Turning Point USA, was one of the expert analysts featured on Hilton’s show. Kirk in recent weeks has careened between dismissing the outbreak as a media-hyped crisis and taking seriously its severity—only once the president did. But on Sunday evening, Kirk said that while it’s great
that Americans have “obeyed the guidelines” and “done the correct thing” by social distancing, the real “panic” should now focus on the economy. “You cannot cage the American entrepreneur,” he said.
With multiple outlets reporting that senior White House officials have expressed weariness over the strict measures health experts have recommended to lessen COVID-19’s impact and prevent the overrunning of U.S. hospitals, one former Trump adviser appeared on Fox News late last week to question whether such restrictions were worth the economic damage.
“You're talking about economic damage that would be in the trillions of dollars. And we have to ask this question, is it worth trillions of dollars of losses,” Stephen Moore wondered on The Ingraham Angle. “Think of the human suffering, from the—in terms of the lost income, the lost life savings.”
After Ingraham said it is not worth it, Moore added: “Is that worth it, to deal with this? It is a question worth asking, because I'm starting to think maybe we should get people back to work as fast as we can.“
The Fox-Trump feedback loop fully closed on Monday when White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow appeared on the network to laud the president’s suggestion that echoed a Fox News host from hours before.
“The president is right,” he said. “The cure can’t be worse than the disease and we’re gonna have to make some difficult tradeoffs,” alluding to the possibility of weighing the outbreak’s death toll against the cost of economic recession.
But not all Fox personalities have begun calling for the president to roll back social-distancing policies.
Fox Business Network correspondent Charles Gasparino on Monday afternoon blasted Trump for wanting to end such restrictions to boost the economy, noting that the current crisis has only been exacerbated by the fact that the president “played down” the threat of the virus earlier this year.
Such dismissiveness, Gasparino said, “prevented appropriate response” months ago, and now the administration will “pay the price.”
“Here’s the problem with ending social distancing,” the Fox reporter concluded. “It’s the hospital systems that probably can’t take the flood of patients coming into there. They haven’t been prepared because we—the central government—was downplaying it so long.”