After repeatedly dismissing the coronavirus pandemic as a liberal hoax designed to bring down the president, Fox News appears to have finally woken up to reality. On Tuesday, the network joined others in practicing on-air social distancing, telling viewers that such measures were crucial to curbing the spread of infections.
“We’re doing exactly the same thing people all across America are trying to do, and that is stay away from each other because you don’t want to get infected and you don’t want to spread infection,” said Steve Doocy, sitting alone on the Fox & Friends’ curvy couch.
“We have a responsibility to slow down this virus and to think of other people during this time,” co-host Ainsley Earhardt added. “So if you can keep your distance, and prevent someone from getting close to you that might be sick, you can save your family, you can save the elderly, and help our country as a nation.”
It was a dramatic shift in tone, and one that seemed to reveal who had won the internal debate taking place within Fox News’ top ranks over how to cover the coronavirus as it rapidly spreads throughout the United States, prompting unprecedented state-mandated shutdowns and restrictions on everyday life. The conflicting views collided in real-time last week when Fox Business’ Trish Regan—who has since reportedly been removed from the network and is unlikely to return—claimed that the coronavirus was an “impeachment scam” aimed at destroying Trump. During the same time slot, Tucker Carlson was striking a very different tune. As I wrote last week:
Not everyone at Trump’s favorite news network is falling in line. Over on Fox News on Monday, Tucker Carlson pushed back on efforts to minimize the scale of the virus—he described the epidemic as “a very serious problem.”
“It’s definitely not just the flu,” he added, a thinly-veiled criticism of Trump’s repeated assertions that the coronavirus and the flu pose similar threats. (Carlson, who has a long record of xenophobia, did refer to the disease as the “Chinese coronavirus,” ignoring experts’ strong warnings against using such terms.)
But Carlson was largely an outlier. Fox News personalities, including Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, have spent recent days relentlessly mocking the coronavirus as nothing more than liberal panic. (Ingraham appears to have deleted a tweet insisting that it was a “great time” to fly despite official CDC warnings; her accusations that the media and Democrats are mismanaging the virus continue.)
When it comes to embracing social distancing practices, Fox News isn’t alone in its about-face. After advising Americans to simply “take it easy” and “relax” amid the public health crisis last week, Trump on Monday presented a newly serious tone as he introduced stringent federal recommendations aimed at slowing the virus, including limiting social gatherings to 10 people. “This is a bad one,” he said referring to the virus at a news conference. “This is a very bad one.”
As my colleague Kevin Drum notes, Trump’s shift was likely prompted after reviewing a new study from the Imperial College in London that predicted over a million deaths if governments failed to adopt serious control measures. Or as others like to call it, science.