Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters
With Americans settling into social distancing and self-quarantines and the economy grinding to a halt, right-wing media can no longer deny concerns about the coronavirus pandemic as a “hoax” pushed by critics of President Donald Trump. Coverage of the crisis from Fox News and other right-wing media outlets is now settling into familiar territory: racism, xenophobia, and nationalism. We can expect more of it all as the pandemic worsens.
According to some right-wing media figures, anyone who pointed out what was going on were actually the ones obsessed with semantics in the middle of public health crisis:
Soon, it was too passive to just call it the “China virus.” The next tactic, a step removed from conspiracy theories about a supposed bioweapons lab, was claiming that China “unleashed” it upon the world.
As more reporting laid bare the failures of the Trump administration to adequately respond to this crisis, it was soon time to escalate even more: Soon, Trump critics were the ones allegedly doing the bidding of China:
Trump himself also repeated this talking point on March 19, with encouragement from pro-Trump cable news network OAN.
While this is all going on, right-wing media were also taking a victory lap to claim that their racist border and immigration policies were wise all along. From Fox’s Tomi Lahren: “[We] have long been criticized and labeled everything from xenophobic to racist and bigoted, but now, a few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic, turns out we may have been on to something. You think?”
In addition to claiming a perverse policy victory from emergency travel restrictions, right-wing media are also using the pandemic to warn against “resettling refugees in your neighborhood” and “dropping outsiders, foreign nationals into their communities.”
As awful as this is, it’s not going to stop without outside pressure. Bigotry is what binds the Trump coalition together, and anyone who has a problem with it jumped ship a long time ago. The ones that are left — particularly on Fox News, right up to Lachlan and Rupert Murdoch themselves — know that bigotry is always the go-to play, even when there’s a body count.
At the same time, as The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer points out, what conservative media figures want most of all is to distract from the colossal failings of the Trump administration and to make the national conversation about accusations of racism and a supposed backlash to political correctness.
So mainstream media should be aggressive calling this strategy out for what it is: Rank bigotry which disregards anti-Asian violence and seeks to support anti-immigrant policies. But it is also a transparent attempt to ignore how right-wing media’s hero grossly botched the response to a pandemic — and how many people will now die because of it.