New York (CNN Business)A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
If you woke up from a coma on Wednesday afternoon and flipped on Fox News, or checked the network’s website, you’d be forgiven if you had no idea the country is currently grappling with a pandemic killing tens-of-thousands of Americans and leaving millions more unemployed.
That’s because the conservative network largely ignored the virus in the afternoon and into its prime time programming. After Republican senators released a list of Obama officials who sought to unmask the name of an unidentified American caught in intelligence reports, who turned out to be Michael Flynn, Fox News went all in on the story. (When asked about the lack of coronavirus coverage, a Fox News spokesperson pointed to coverage from earlier in the afternoon.)
Fox News hosts such as Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham hyped the new developments as part of the supposed “OBAMAGATE” scandal the network has been promoting for the last few days with President Trump. Anchors at the network, such as Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, also elevated the story. And during the day, softball interviews were given to Republican Senators Rand Paul and Ron Johnson, both of whom have, thus far, declined to appear on CNN.
Online, the Fox News homepage prominently displayed articles on the topic, while barely mentioning the coronavirus or havoc it has wrecked on the nation and world. It looked far more like the front page of the far-right website Breitbart than a credible news organization.
That Fox News would push a dishonest disinformation campaign against Trump’s political opponents is reprehensible, but not surprising. The network has been pumping poison into the national conversation for quite some time. But that Fox is engaging in such behavior as more than 83,000 Americans lay dead from a virus that has upended American life is particularly repugnant.
And while it might be tempting to ignore all of this, and brush it aside, there is a real news story here: It’s that the President of the United States, in conjunction with a major American network, is polluting the information wells during a pandemic to help distract from the bad news and boost his re-election efforts.
Hannity lashes out at judge in Flynn case
After federal Judge Emmet Sullivan asked whether Flynn could be held in contempt of court for perjury, and appointed a retired judge to argue against the DOJ’s case to dismiss the case, right-wing media lit up with outrage. That was most apparent in Hannity’s comments Wednesday night.
“You botched this from day one and you had a bias from day one,” Hannity seethed. “You reek of ignorance, you reek of political bias. So Judge Sullivan, you and you alone from this day forward are responsible for continuing what has been a travesty of justice that destroyed four years of an American hero’s life, and it’s time for a new venue and a new judge and someone unlike you that doesn’t have political bias.”
“The health experts keep saying inconvenient things”
Meanwhile, when Fox News did find time to cover the coronavirus, it was done in part through the lens of criticizing Dr. Anthony Fauci. After the Fox News prime time line up beat up on Fauci the night before, Carlson resumed doing so on Wednesday. Carlson, who called Fauci a “buffoon” earlier in the week, said Fauci is “sometimes absurd.” And he mocked him as a “stone-cold genius who you are not allowed to question.”
Carlson’s earlier remarks drew scrutiny from hosts on CNN and MSNBC. John Berman quipped, “[Fauci] was called a buffoon. That might be a subject Tucker Carlson knows something about.” Nicole Wallace pointed out, “Fox has not just played with fire, but been singed with the reckless commentary of people on their air.” And Chris Hayes summed up: “The bigger problem is that the President and the people who are tasked with propagandizing on his behalf, do not like that the health experts keep saying inconvenient things.”
Limbaugh explains Trump’s Fauci strategy
Radio host Rush Limbaugh fielded a question Wednesday from a caller who asked why Trump continues to praise Fauci. Limbaugh explained how Trump should “deal” with Fauci, given that he is so widely respected. “You praise him to the hilt, exactly like Trump is doing,” Limbaugh said. “You praise him to the hilt. You talk about how brilliant he is, and you say that we’re so lucky to have Fauci.”
“‘Oh, my God. Tony, you should run for office,’ and then privately you ignore every damn thing he says and implement your own policy,” Limbaugh added. “That’s the only way you can do it.” The caller asked Limbaugh if Trump will pursue such a strategy. “I think he already is,” Limbaugh replied.
>> Of note: Trump criticized Fauci on Wednesday, saying his answer on schools reopening was not “acceptable…”
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