The Trumpy media from top to bottom is having a rough time of it these days. They had pretty much decided that COVID-19 was another “impeachment scam” advanced by the mainstream media to paint their Mango God King as incompetent. But then Fox News, the Death Star of that media universe, told them differently.
The president’s messaging arm was all in on how the Democrats are trying to blow this up to make the president look bad. Thought leader Sean Hannity had cooked up the notion that the media was using COVID-19 as a sort of impeachment part two: “Since the beginning, all they’ve done is use the virus, politicize the virus to bludgeon President Trump.”
It was simple: Democrats were bad, and their concern about the global pandemic was obviously, completely, and utterly overblown. Another great mind at Fox Nation (Fox News’ dumber, less intellectual, first cousin-marrying live-streaming service), Tomi Lahren, said she was “far more concerned with stepping on a used heroin needle than I am [with] getting the coronavirus. I do think we have far bigger problems in this state than a docked cruise ship and some coronavirus.”
But then people started dying, and photos of mass grave sites in Iran so large they were visible from space popped up, and then stories started coming out of Italy of a country on the brink of collapse, with hospitals forced to make impossible choices about whom to treat and whom to let die. And slowly the conservative media started to change course.
The moment of transition could perhaps be pinpointed to last Friday, a few days after a Monday show where Trish Regan said COVID-19 “is yet another attempt to impeach the president.” Regan carried on as normal through Thursday, but then, shockingly, on Friday, she was put “on hiatus until further notice.”
It was head-snapping. Trish had just been carrying water for the administration as she was supposed to, but then, out of nowhere, like one of those old inscrutable and unexplained shifts in dogma by the Soviet Politburo, it was decided that no, COVID-19 was actually real.
Perhaps it was the numerous articles about how Fox News was going to get people killed that changed Rupert’s mind, or the fact that COVID-19 could very likely be problematic for the 89-year-old master of the universe. The fatality rate for people in their eighties is about 14.8 percent. Whatever the reason, Trish was put on ice because the messaging had changed. The rest of Foxworld quickly got it.
The same day that happened, Newt Gingrich wrote an op-ed for Newsweek that said: “The hardest-hit region around Milan has had to improvise as its health system has been deeply stressed by the sheer number of patients. In Milan and Brescia, field hospitals have been set up in the fairgrounds as the local hospitals have been drowned in patient.” All of a sudden, the Trumpists had decided that COVID-19 was a big deal.
Evidently, Trump got this change in messaging from Fox, because two days ago, at a presidential press conference, the president was suddenly Mr. Serious. “No, I’ve been urgent,” he said. “This is urgent for me, right from the beginning. You know that because I closed up our country to China.” He said it would be bad, he admitted it could cause a recession, and he even said the media had been fair!
Yesterday, Newt tried to explain his sudden change of heart and the snap in conservative media by blaming the mainstream media. Newt tweeted, “A reporter asked me today why conservatives were initially so skeptical of the threat of the coronavirus. I tried to explain that one of the dangerous consequences of having a totally dishonest left wing news media was that most Americans discounted their hysteria as phony.”
So it was the mainstream media’s fault that the right-wing media and the president spent the last six weeks downplaying the pandemic. Sure. Makes sense. And by “makes sense,” I mean: WHAT?!?
And then, Monday night, after Trump’s turnaround presser, Hannity declared that in fact, “We can say this tonight without a doubt. The president’s China and European travel ban, I predict, will go down as the single most consequential decision in history. That's not political. It bought us time. It bought hospitals time to prepare for the worst-case scenario.” The Fox News messaging machine had decided that COVID-19 was actually real and that Trump was doing an amazing, magnificent, spectacular job fighting the pandemic he had spent nearly two months denying the existence of.
And while Rupert Murdoch has gotten the idea, some Trumpists still believe COVID-19 is a Democrat hoax. Pizzagate’s own Jack Posobiec said, “All these celebrities and politicians keep testing positive but no one I know has it.” And the dumbest man on the internet, the Gateway Pundit’s Joe Hoft (Jim’s brother), tweeted: “Similar to Hong Kong the only group to flourish in the #coronapocalypse and the protests were the grocers. Clearly this is a hoax started by them.”
Trump has suddenly become interested in public health, about three months too late to stop the pandemic from ravaging our elderly, but still we should be glad that Trump is taking it seriously now. His administration is even now signing on to ideas that seem... Keynesian to put it politely, and to put it rudely, socialistic! A thousand bucks a head to all those moochers?!
The question remains, how far will Trump go? Will he continue on, will he go for Medicare for All, or for a public health care option? Will we see Sean Hannity making a case to fund rural hospitals? Or will Rupert decide it’s too much and push back? How serious will Murdoch allow the president to get about the pandemic?
Needless to say much of this action is way too late, but it’s still morbidly fascinating to watch Fox News realize that killing its core audience is bad for business.