Right-wing figures eager to downplay the coronavirus pandemic’s death toll have hit on a new idea: filming quiet hospital parking lots.
Over the weekend, a growing number of pro-Trump personalities decided that the way to prove that the media was overhyping the pandemic was to film places where cars and ambulances show up to drop patients off. If the entrances were quiet and the parking lots mostly empty, they claimed, that was proof that the coronavirus’ effects had been overstated. Inspired by the #FilmYourHospital hashtag, which trended on Twitter and was originally started by a QAnon conspiracy theorist, people across the country started filming hospitals.
The trend appears to have started with former Fox News radio host Todd Starnes, who wrote a column Friday downplaying New York City’s coronavirus outbreak. As proof, Starnes cited a brief trip to two hospitals, claiming that he didn’t see evidence of the coronavirus from outside the buildings.
“I personally visited two hospitals in Brooklyn and did not seen (sic) any unusual traffic,” Starnes wrote.
Starnes, who lost his Fox radio show last year after standing by as one of his guests claimed that Democrats pray to a demon god named Moloch, followed up on Saturday with a video of a quiet hospital entrance, which has been viewed more than 1 million times on Twitter.
“This is what it’s like in reality,” Starnes said. “Very quiet, very calm out here. Not much going on at all.”
As NBC reported, the hospital claim was amplified by DeAnna Lorraine Tesoriero, a right-wing personality who ran a quixotic campaign against Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in San Francisco. Tesoriero posted video from two Los Angeles hospitals.
“They are very quiet & EMPTY,” Tesoriero wrote, in a tweet that has been retweeted nearly 20,000 times on Twitter. “We are not being told the truth. Why?? Let’s get #FilmYourHospital trending. We ARE the news now. We can’t trust the news. Post pics of ur hospital here!”
There are plenty of holes in Starnes and Tesoriero’s argument. Medical staff treat patients inside the hospitals, after all, not in parking lots. The videos also don’t consider that, as hospitals cancel elective surgeries and ban visitors, fewer people could be parking at the hospital. The videos also don’t take into account the fact that coronavirus patients are likely isolated from the rest of the hospital, meaning they can’t be easily seen by walking past an entrance or lobby.
But, chief among the holes in this theory is the myriad of direct testimony and evidence that has been offered from officials inside the hospitals, who have described horrifying conditions of human suffering, medical triage, and rapidly increasing death tallies—so much so that refrigerated trucks are being used to take away corpses.
And yet, a wild conspiracy theory that plays off the idea that the media is trying to make Donald Trump look bad is, for some, too hard to avoid. The fixation with filming hospital parking lots made it to Fox News, where contributor Sara Carter referred to the videos of quiet hospital entrances as somehow suspicious on Sunday night.
“You can see it on Twitter, Steve,” Carter told Fox host Steve Hilton. “People are saying ‘film your hospital,’ people are driving by their hospitals and they’re not seeing — in the ones that I’ve seen — they’re not seeing anyone in the parking lots, they’re not seeing anyone drive up. So people are wondering what’s going inside their hospitals.”
Carter praised the hashtag on Twitter to her more than 1 million followers, saying she would be tracking the hospital videos.
"Interesting, for sure," Carter wrote. "I'll be watching #FilmYourHospital closely."
The tweet was later deleted, apparently by Carter herself. A Twitter spokesperson said the company did not remove it from the platform. Carter didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Lesser-known conspiracy theorists have gotten in on the trend, too, threatening to draw hostile amateur investigators to already overtaxed hospitals. “#FilmYourHospital” videos have appeared on YouTube with footage from hospitals in Nashville, Tennessee and Waco, Texas. The trend has even made it across the Atlantic, with an unnamed woman filming inside a Dublin hospital and claiming that empty admissions rooms are proof the coronavirus outbreak is somehow fake.