Misinformation can be fatal

Fox News is getting credit for cutting back a little on the lies.

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox cable networks, amid this crisis, have not been diverted from their primary mission, even if misinformation is the price. Apologia and advocacy for both Donald Trump and the Republican Party has typically taken precedence at Fox News and Fox Business. Even at a time when such a collective public effort is required to combat a global pandemic, the danger wasn’t a deterrent. Some anchors and guests likened COVID-19 to the flu, which is patently false. Fox Business’ Trish Regan theorized that media alarm about COVID-19 was “yet another attempt to impeach the president.” They encouraged Americans to congregate and travel, ignoring safety advice from medical experts and even government officials.

Because which is more important – giving the public good information during a developing pandemic or propping up Donald Trump while he lies to the public during a developing pandemic? Who matters more, Donald Trump or all the other people on the planet?

Mixed in with the supposedly sober tone of the new Fox News rhetoric is the regularly served glorification for the president. Last Friday, prime-time host Sean Hannity, known to advise and fraternize with the president, sounded not unlike one of his counterparts on North Korean state television. Hannity argued that “a bold, new precedent is being set, the world will once again benefit greatly from America’s leadership,” despite the fact that we’re still desperately short on tests and vital hospital equipment. Hannity celebrated “the federal government, state governments, private businesses, top hospitals all coming together, under the president’s leadership, to stem the tide of the coronavirus,” all before any tide has actually been stemmed.

And long after all this coming together should have started. Oh thank you Donald Trump for finally admitting the pandemic is a problem after weeks and weeks of brushing it aside.

Two recent polls, one from Pew Research Center and the other from YouGov and The Economist, indicate that regular Fox News viewers both are the only American media consumers who believe Trump is doing a good job of responding to the crisis and that the press has greatly exaggerated the risks of contracting COVID-19.

There’s a loop here. It’s not just that Fox viewers think Trump is awesome because Fox tells them he is, it’s also that the kind of people who like Trump are the kind of people who like Fox News.

Misinformation can be fatal, and that’s why Americans need to be more vigilant and shrewd about the media that they consume, especially now. That is the lesson that we all should be conveying, particularly those of us in the press. We cannot rely upon the visceral danger this pandemic presents to encourage people to make smarter choices about citizenship, let alone what and who they allow to influence their thinking. And that starts with thinking critically about oneself, which too many Americans fail or refuse to do.

Thinking critically about oneself is unAmerican. I think it might be against the law here.

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