Media figures say “the inadvertent martyrdom” in Manhattan criminal court “just made Donald Trump the nominee”.
The 34 felony counts faced by former President Donald Trump in New York mark a historic moment for the U.S., and, according to some in right-wing media, the end of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presumed campaign for the 2024 Republican nomination.
Since 2018, DeSantis had been a darling of the broader conservative movement, after barely winning the governor’s race with Trump's endorsement. Hype for a potential presidential campaign eventually followed, as media began to discuss him as a successor to Trump. But once DeSantis began to emerge as a potential challenger to Trump, the former heir apparent began a relative fall from grace.
And now that Trump is facing nearly three dozen felonies related to his alleged hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, the alternate universe of right-wing media has even more supposed evidence that Trump is a victim of a never-ending witch hunt by the radical Democrats. It may prove difficult for DeSantis to win over primary voters who, “as a screw you” to the Democrats, “start wanting to support Donald Trump."
“The flood of support continues to pour in for President Donald Trump,” reported OAN’s Daniel Baldwin on Monday. Baldwin noted that Trump raised millions of dollars and recruited thousands of volunteers -- and polled 30 points ahead of DeSantis post-indictment -- “suggesting the American people are rallying behind the 45th president.”
Right-wing commentator Steven Crowder commented that Trump’s criminal case is so “unprecedented when you’re talking about modern American history” that it could outrage the Republican base into supporting Trump as the nominee: “For me, it’s like, as a screw you, now I start wanting to support Donald Trump. It’s like, I want him to be the candidate.”
Describing the criminal case as “the inadvertent martyrdom of Donald Trump,” right-wing influencer Russell Brand claimed that the felony charges do not reflect “genuine concern about illegitimate action,” but “obviously an attempt to derail Trump’s ongoing successful campaign where, astonishingly, he’s up to 30 points ahead of Ron DeSantis,” despite the governor being “something of a darling” for conservatives generally.
With Trump popularly understood in conservative circles as a victim of Democratic judicial tyranny, his footing in the primary is strong enough that some right-wing media voices are wondering why DeSantis would even announce a campaign.
“President Trump has surged in the polls,” boasted Karoline Leavitt, a former assistant press secretary in the Trump administration, speaking on a Newsmax panel. “National polls have him 30 points ahead of his next contender, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who, frankly, shouldn't even run at this point for the presidency.”
Leavitt’s dismissal of DeSantis drew ire from the panel, but she doubled down: “If you want to run, you should run to win, and Gov. Ron DeSantis is going to be running to lose.”
Newsmax host Rob Schmitt summed up the mood on April 5, with a clip of Fox host Mark Levin, whom Schmitt described as “leaning toward DeSantis until he saw what’s happening to Donald Trump.” In the clip, Levin yelled that “at this time, at this moment, with these American Marxist movements taking over … he’s the guy” to “fight back” against the left. Schmitt concluded that “this moment is endearing a lot of the Republican base back to Donald Trump.”
As my colleague Matt Gertz has noted, conservatives believe that any attack on Trump is an attack on his voters, because conservative media and Trump himself have said as much for years. It stands to reason that the effect would be strongest at the current apex of Trump’s legal vulnerability, and may only grow stronger as other, more serious cases against him advance.
One of Schmitt’s guests, longtime right-wing commentator and CPAC chief Matt Schlapp, confirmed the bad news for DeSantis’ campaign with a quote from one of the governor’s unnamed supporters: “I think yesterday just made Donald Trump the nominee.”
Amid the historic indictment of former President Donald Trump on March 30, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump’s presumed rival for the 2024 Republican nomination, declared that “Florida will not assist in an extradition request” to send Trump to New York to face trial — exactly what Trump’s media allies called for him to say nearly two weeks earlier.
On March 20, during a statement broadly denouncing the investigation by “Soros-funded” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, DeSantis included a tepid criticism of Trump — “I don't know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair” — and said that he wouldn’t get involved “in any way,” preferring to focus on “real issues” instead.
Among the comments labeling DeSantis a weak-willed “weasel,” numerous figures in pro-Trump media specifically called for the governor to block Trump’s extradition from his home in Florida:
\u201cCharlie Kirk: "I don't think it is too big of an ask for Ron DeSantis to create a sanctuary state for a former president who is being persecuted by a Soros funded DA."\n\nAsking one top contender for the GOP nomination to run legal interference for the other one is...a big ask.\u201d
\u201cIf Ron Desantis is the conservative hero he projects himself to be, he should REFUSE to honor the arrest warrant for President-in-exile Trump and send the Florida National Guard to Mar-a-lago to ensure Trump\u2019s protection. \n\nPeriod. Anything less proves Desantis is a fraud.\u201d
DeSantis bent the knee to Trumpworld and defended his primary rival for the Republican nomination at what should have been a vulnerable moment, seemingly undermining his own potential 2024 campaign. And some of Trump’s supporters still said that DeSantis should have been tougher.
\u201cIt really shouldn't be "Florida will not assist"\n\nIt should be "Florida will protect the President and prevent extradition with our state militia if necessary"\n\nThere. Fixed it.\u201d
Adding to the pathetic nature of the governor’s display, a Trump attorney told NBC News that the former president will surrender himself to authorities in New York next week. There will seemingly be no extradition process over which DeSantis can peacock.
Ron DeSantis caving to the demands of Trumpist media is another example of the impossible bind the governor is in, and the suffocating power Trump and his media allies still hold over Republican politics.
Longtime Trump ally Roger Stone appeared on The Lindell Report, a nightly webcast from MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and his co-host Brannon Howse, in part to discuss Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ undeclared campaign for president on March 22. Stone denounced DeSantis’ “globalist money” and lack of “the common touch,” predicting that the “cold fish who doesn’t like people” would meet his political end for stepping to Trump.
Although Trump has been the Republican Party’s presumptive 2024 nominee since losing the 2020 election, rumors have swirled about DeSantis running for president for months, prompting waves of criticism from the former president and his media allies. DeSantis largely avoided responding, until his recent mockery of Trump’s hush money payment to a former porn actor and later his March 22 interview with Fox’s Piers Morgan, in which he essentially called Trump a chaotic leader with many character failings.
Stone came on Lindell’s show and responded to DeSantis’ comments: “Gee Governor, you didn't seem to care much about his moral character when he endorsed you for governor and thus -- and therefore gave you a one-way ticket to the Republican nomination, … because in all honesty, Ron DeSantis is a cold fish who doesn’t like people.”
Later in the interview, Stone speculated that DeSantis might avoid interacting with people because he is “on the spectrum”: “He does not have the common touch. I don’t know if he is an introvert in an extrovert’s business, whether he may be on the spectrum, I don’t know. But he’s a very odd fellow. … He wears earbuds so he can avoid human contact, so people don’t speak to him. At rallies he doesn’t press the flesh. All of those rituals of politics that Donald Trump seems to love, because I think Trump gets strength from people, the governor doesn’t seem to like to do.”
Stone also attacked DeSantis’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying, “When you examine what you think he did in Florida, and what he actually did in Florida, people will find out they’re two different things.” He complained that despite DeSantis’ reputation for opposing mask mandates in schools, “he left it up to each county, and the seven largest counties in Florida refused to comply with the governor’s order, and 3.6 million schoolchildren were still required to wear masks long after the governor was in Las Vegas saying the Florida school system was mask-free.”
Stone declared that DeSantis “made perhaps the greatest single error I’ve ever seen in 43 years in American politics by attacking Donald Trump” with his Fox interview, because “the people who like DeSantis like him because they think he is like Trump.” Denouncing his support from establishment Republicans and “globalist money,” Stone said DeSantis “talks a better game than reality,” but “if he runs, Trump will beat him like a drum, and it’ll be the end of Ron’s political career.”
On March 20, presumed presidential candidate and Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis responded to a question about former President Donald Trump’s potential indictment with common conservative messaging, saying the Manhattan district attorney involved is a “Soros-funded prosecutor” who is imposing “a political agenda on society.” But some of DeSantis’ other commentary lit pro-Trump media up in fury.
In the middle of attacking Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, DeSantis also said, “Look, I don't know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair." DeSantis’ drive-by comment, about the reason Trump is rumored to be facing indictment, echoes years of liberal and mainstream criticism of Trump. He also indicated that he would not get involved in the potential indictment “in any way,” saying that he was instead focused on “real issues.”
The governor’s commentary led to a flood of Trump supporters condemning his “catastrophic miscalculation” and “pure weakness.”
Although some of these pro-Trump voices still express appreciation for DeSantis, his comments have fueled the growing sense in some right-wing media circles that “he is establishment and will be a major disappointment to those who think otherwise.” The response to DeSantis' comments is more proof that media allies of Trump and DeSantis are moving toward open war.
On Real America's Voice’s War Room, host Steve Bannon and radio host John Fredericksattacked DeSantis for his comments, with Bannon claiming it was “not an acceptable response” and Fredericks calling DeSantis’ statement “one of the most unbelievable, feckless, weasel, consultant-driven responses in a crisis you've ever heard.”
On Twitter, Donald Trump Jr. took particular offense to DeSantis claiming the possible indictment is not a “real issue” and called his comments “pure weakness,” claiming the governor is “totally owned by Karl Rove, Paul Ryan & his billionaire donors.”
Trump’s other son, Eric Trump, also took to Twitter to claim that when “they do the exact same thing to him, his friends and his family,” DeSantis will “neither have the backbone, nor the resources” to defend himself against the “corrupt system.” He also said DeSantis is “not the guy I thought he was.”
Conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiecshared a video of the comments, highlighting DeSantis’ pledge to not get involved with the investigation. Posobiec also tweeted “Et tu, Brute?” seemingly in reference to DeSantis’ comments.
After wishing DeSantis well, far-right troll Mike Cernovichcalled the speech a “catastrophic miscalculation” that was “disappointing to me.” Cernovich claimed the incident would make it “easier for me to remain objective” moving forward in the 2024 presidential race.
Daily Wire host Candace Owensclaimed on Twitter that the Florida governor's supporters “saw things in DeSantis that were never there.” In another tweet, Owens praised DeSantis for handling COVID-19 “correctly and bravely” but said he is “not America first.”
Blaze Media host Steve Deacetweeted a short essay that called DeSantis “the best and most successful GOP politician of modern times” but also relayed his hope that DeSantis makes a stronger statement backing Trump.
Failed Republican House candidate and anti-Muslim troll Laura Loomerclaimed DeSantis mocked Trump by stating he “doesn’t know much about paying porn stars off” and used the barb to address DeSantis’ supposed “shorter prison sentences for Child porn crimes.”
Conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souzatweeted his disappointment about the back-and-forth attacks between Trump and DeSantis and claimed DeSantis should have realized the Trump investigation and possible arrest “has NOTHING to do with paying off a porn star.”
Daily Wire host Matt Walshcalled the statement from DeSantis “not good.” Walsh called his decision to not back Trump more forcefully in light of the potential indictment an “unforced error here.”
Revolver News owner Darren Beattieimplied that DeSantis’ statement showed he is lacking “good political instincts.” Beattie said about the comments, “This is bad.”
Right-wing activist Raheem Kassamtweeted “Woooooow” about DeSantis suggesting the potential arrest is “not a ‘real issue.’”
On July 21, Verizon followed in DirecTV’s footsteps and announced it would not be renewing its contract with the far-right conspiracy theory network One America News. Having learned nothing from its catastrophic response to DirecTV, OAN denounced Verizon and encouraged viewers to harass and boycott the “radical Marxist corporation.” And since then, OAN has only further proved its worthlessness.
Without a major carrier, OAN remains focused on national issues like a fear of roving transgender gangsharassing conservatives, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s support for gay men who flash “their genitals to little boys and girls” (she appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race -- a show with no children -- two years ago), and Verizon’s “censorship” of OAN.
Before OAN was officially kicked off national television, however, the network spent its last week much like the years before, warning viewers of “Fauci-funded bioweapons” unleashed against the people, hand-wringing over billionaires “pushing the transgender issue,” speculating about gay men with monkeypox sexually assaulting children, lamenting the need for a literal war against drug cartels, and discussing the left’s grand plot to steal the 2022 midterms, beginning with the “Marxist censorship” of OAN and other right-wing voices.
Prior to the drop, Pearson Sharp, Infowars’ favorite OAN correspondent, delivered one more report about the “predator class” using COVID-19 vaccines to “depopulate the world” by 15 percent.
“They want to kill off the useless people, as they call us,” Sharp ominously said. “And you can already see it happening. … We know these vaccines are hardest on the elderly, so it makes perfect sense that the Bolsheviks in our government would want to wipe out as many retired Americans as possible. Can’t pay Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security if people are dead, don’t you know?”
“These Fauci-funded bioweapons,” Sharp warned, “are products of a rogue globalist government that hates America and hates its citizens, and is doing everything in its power to wipe us out. This is corporate domestic bioterrorism, plain and simple,” and “the predator class in Washington” which is “responsible for this genocide” must pay the price.
OAN’s final days of national carriage also targeted LGBTQ people with bigoted nonsense. For making investments in transgender issues and “quote-unquote, ‘gender care,’” Tipping Point host Kara McKinney labeled Democratic Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and his cousin, Jennifer -- whom McKinney also deadnamed and misgendered -- “two prime examples of transhumanists trying to play God by reshaping the world through technology.” McKinney said the Pritzkers are an example of billionaires who are “ really pushing the transgender issue” alongside Big Pharma, which she said sees it as “another potential moneymaker” as “COVID starts to wind down at least somewhat.”
Before inisting that he did not want to sound homophobic, Real America’s Ball took news of multiple children testing positive for monkeypox as a potential sign that they had been sexually assaulted by gay men. “How does a kid in Washington, D.C., and a kid in California -- we’re talking toddlers -- get monkeypox if it’s barely ever transmitted through just touching the skin,” Ball asked, exactly describing monkeypox transmission, “because otherwise, you know where I’m going with this.”
Ball’s guest, the anti-COVID-19 vaccine Dr. Brian Tyson, replied that he believed that both children “came from a gay relationship family, or had contact with somebody in the gay community, and I think that that’s really where we’re going with this.” Speculating that one child may be undocumented, Tyson said, “Who knows what’s happened to that kid. And we see bad things happen to kids all the time in those situations.”
“That’s what I’m saying. That’s where I’m going with it,” Ball replied, talking over Tyson’s hedge that “it’s a little too early to draw conclusions on that.”
Speaking of Ball and children, the Real America host also spent part of his last week on national television encouraging parents to hit their children for misbehaving. After a guest blamed “psychotropic drugs” and other “externalities” for mass shootings, Ball suggested parents should ignore medical treatments for behavior problems and just hit them instead.
“We can’t say enough about what we’re doing to our children, folks. The next time you take your kid who you think’s a little bit hyper, or a little bit despondent, or a little bit sidetracked in the classroom, don’t feed him drugs.” Ball continued, “I’m of a different age … and when they said, 'Dan's hyperactive. Dan won't sit still in class. Dan won’t shut his mouth,' nobody said, 'Pump Dan full of drugs' 40 years ago when I was seven or eight. You know what they did? They cracked me one and then I got in line."
In its final days of national carriage, OAN also called for military action against drug cartels. With no concern for the possibility of starting a war with Mexico, or U.S. airstrikes on U.S. soil, host Addison Smith called for “using the unfathomable power and strength of our military to deal with Mexican drug cartels” and compared the would-be war to ongoing U.S. special operations and drone campaigns.
“The Mexican drug operation is one of, if not the, biggest threat to this nation right now,” Smith warned. “If our United States military has a job to deal with any group, that should be target number one, and we could do it very easily.” His guest, Rep. Pat Fallon (R-TX), agreed that the U.S. should “use every means necessary to secure our southern border, to protect the American people against the Mexican drug cartels.”
OAN’s final days on national television were a shameful mess of the vitriol and dangerous conspiracy theories it is known for, down to the network’s explanation of why it was leaving Verizon. According to Sharp, “there’s no chance in hell” Democrats will allow Republicans to win control of Congress in November, so they will cheat as they did in 2020, “and the process starts, of course with a massive, widespread, coordinated campaign of censorship,” which naturally included DirecTV and Verizon dumping OAN.
“It's essentially institutionalized discrimination,” Sharp complained as his network’s time ran out. “It’s appalling to think that the criminals in Washington are colluding with the criminals in the media to prevent you, the American people, from figuring out just how much of the Constitution they're willing to shred to stay in power.”
On Thursday, The Daily Beastreported that Verizon was “unable to reach an agreement” with Herring Networks, the parent company of One America News, and that OAN will be “removed from the Fios TV lineup” on July 31.
In recent weeks, One America News Network has lobbed attacks at Verizon, one of its last remaining carriers, for “silencing conservative voices” and “engaging in censorship” against OAN. This wave of attacks came into clearer focus when Verizon publicly revealed that its contract with Herring Networks, OAN’s parent company, expires on July 30.
The “content update” for customers on Verizon’s website states that “sometimes broadcasters and cable networks demand unacceptable price increases,” implying that the issue is Herring Networks charging Verizon more money than its channels are worth -- which is not much.
And in a messagedated July 15, Verizon alerted Fios customers that starting soon, the provider would be offering OAN and Herring's A Wealth of Entertainment, (AWE) “to those Fios TV customers who want to watch them and are willing to pay for them” -- suggesting the channels might soon be available only as premium subscriptions.
Whether the issue is financial or otherwise, Verizon is right to balk at renewing the contract to carry an extremist, increasingly hateful, and anti-democracy network. OAN has shown a zeal unlike any other self-styled news organization for fighting the results of the 2020 election, including involving itself in the Trump campaign’s fake electors scheme and state election “audits,” as well as issuing calls for treason trials and mass executions of media and Democratic Party leadership.
OAN also manages to stand out among right-wing cable networks for its viciously anti-LGBTQcommentary, labeling LGBTQ people and their allies -- especially transgender people -- as pedophiles “satisfying their own warped perversions” and also “canceling reproduction” for “population control.” Said one guest, “We need to start really going after these people and really punishing them.”
As Verizon’s contract with OAN is coming to a close, the network is still staking out the only negotiating position it seems to know and one that worked so well in its fractiousDirecTVrelationship -- hostile attacks.
In an interview with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), OAN correspondent Caitlin Sinclair labeled Verizon “one of the largest and wokest companies to date” and accused it of “looking to drop this network, One America News, from their lineup.” Sinclair asked Stefanik, “What pressure are you and Republican colleagues possibly putting on Verizon, or can you put on a company like Verizon?” Stefanik replied, “It’s not up to Verizon to determine what American citizens, what information they can access. That’s up to the consumer themselves.”
In a different portion of the same Stefanik interview, which OAN aired in two separate segments, Sinclair claimed that OAN’s viewership “is just proof that the American people do not want orthodoxy.” She also asked, “What can the American people do in the meantime as far as immediate steps to ensure consumer choice when it comes to news programming?” Stefanik advised the consumers to “hold these companies accountable” by choosing to “take your dollars elsewhere.”
Sinclair concluded the segment by declaring, “We the American people cannot continue to allow this level of censorship. House Republicans and their legislative efforts are commendable and critical, but we still need to hear from you. This assault on our sovereignty ends with us, the American citizens, taking back the power.”
In another interview, this time with Heritage Foundation tech policy director Kara Frederick, OAN D.C. bureau chief John Hines asked if a 2021 letter from Democratic members of Congress asking TV providers, including Verizon, to comment on right-wing misinformation was “a form of subtle intimidation, sort of a wink-and-a-nod form of intimidation, or a tacit threat” from the government. Frederick replied that Congress was essentially saying that “if we don’t like what these networks are basically saying and disseminating, then we aim to cut you off at the knees.” Hines concluded that “maybe even your cable -- DirecTV, Verizon, Comcast -- maybe they won’t be on your side after they get some of these letters,” which were sent 17 months ago.
OAN’s consistent whining about “censorship” is a red herring from the unavoidable truth: This incredibly hateful and anti-democratic network is a liability for any TV provider that does business with it.
On July 12, several outlets reported that a Minnesota man, Denis Molla, was accused by federal prosecutors of “faking a politically-motivated arson at his own property and filing false insurance claims.”
When the incident was first reported in September 2020, local media outlets like Minnesota’s CBS affiliate covered the “suspicious fire” which followed the family’s purchase of two Trump flags and unnamed people “driving by their house very slowly, some taking pictures.” The Star Tribune also repeated Molla’s claim of people taking photos, adding that “feces was later left at his vehicle when he went on a water break” at work. A local NBC affiliate also reported that “political graffiti” at the scene showed that the fire “might have been set by someone unhappy with the Trump 2020 flag hanging from the family's camper in the driveway.”
Right-wing media were not far behind the trend. Fox News and the New York Post gave Molla supportive coverage online, but One America News Network produced an entire TV segment about the arson and vandalism, which it aired four times.
OAN reporter Daniel Kitchen reported that “the homeowners said they woke up to a loud boom, when husband Denis Molla saw roughly three people running away from the front of his home. Instead of going after the suspected arsonists,” Kitchen continued, “Molla stayed behind in order to rescue his wife and two younger children, along with four Husky puppies,” complete with Molla’s dramatic footage of him throwing a dog out of the back door.
“Surveillance footage at the front door was able to capture moments before the homeowners were able to escape their house” -- but apparently not the “roughly three people” whom Molla alleged set the fire. Instead, OAN reported that the family believed “their house was targeted by the radical left for their political beliefs.”
“It’s scary. It’s scary to know that my beliefs has created such an anger and such evil to somebody to do something like this,” Molla said during the report.
OAN said that “along with the blaze, graffiti was seen defacing the garage, with a pro-Biden and BLM message displayed. Additionally, the anarchy symbol, with the letter A and a circle around it, was also seen on the garage.” Prosecutors now allege Molla did the graffiti on his own garage.
The graffiti echoes multiple other instances of conservatives through the years faking their own political persecution, including a volunteer for the late Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign who carved a backwards B into her own cheek (for “Barack”) and claimed she was robbed, and a man who destroyed his own pickup truck with Black Lives Matter graffiti.
“Officials are still looking for suspects, with the investigation extremely active,” Kitchen reported. And two years later, they found one.
As of April 5, DirecTV has removed One America News Network from its TV subscription packages.
In January, DirecTV announced that it would not renew its contract with the far-right conspiracy theory network. Although OAN provided years of virulent bigotry and right-wing misinformation, including one reporter’s on- and off-screen attempts to overturn the 2020 election, the announcement came after a massive public backlash to a Reuters report which revealed that DirecTV’s owner, AT&T, played a critical role in creating OAN and supplied 90% of its income.
Once news broke of its DirecTV contract expiration, OAN filed a breach of contract lawsuit against AT&T and briefly solicited viewers for “dirt” on AT&T’s board chair. Meanwhile, OAN programming has gotten worse since January, as the network doubled down on old staples like anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and lies about the 2020 election, as well as irresponsible coverage of new topics like the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Supreme Court nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson.
The OAN line on COVID-19 vaccines, as delivered by correspondent Pearson Sharp, is that the vaccines are “turning into DNA” to become “part of your body’s genetic code,” meaning that “there’s a good chance they could … kill you.” None of this is true, but in February, Sharp took these abject lies about vaccine mortality in a genocidal direction, telling OAN viewers that the survival of the United States depended on COVID-19 vaccines killing liberals. Sharp also appeared on Infowars, where he hypothesized that COVID-19 restrictions could spark a justified revolution.
Though she was not OAN’s only misinformer about the 2020 election, former host Christina Bobb became the network’s face of its attempts to overturn the 2020 election results. She fought for, reported on, and fundraised for the Arizona “audit,” and before she left OAN in March to work for former President Donald Trump, Bobb had begun a new phase of her pressure campaign against state-level Republicans to begin new “audits.”
OAN also attached its brand of unhinged conspiracy theories to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Multiple OAN figures have suggested or stated that the Russian attack on a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, was what Sharp called a “false flag operation” connected to billionaire George Soros.
But few OAN personalities took as much of an interest in spreading misinformation about the war in Ukraine as prime-time host Dan Ball, who repeatedly spread Russian government propaganda about nonexistent “biochemical weapons plants” in Ukraine, and seems to fervently believe that the war somehow involves President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and the 2020 Trump campaign’s old, desperate allegations against Biden and a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma. In one segment about Ukraine, Ball even agreed with a guest that the U.S. military should invade and occupy northern Mexico because of immigration.
OAN also spent the past few weeks directing viewers’ ire toward Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. Like much of right-wing media, OAN is enthralled by the false narrative that Jackson “lets pedos out of jail early,” according to Ball, who also called the accomplished jurist “scum” based on this smear. OAN programming has called Jackson part of “the pedophilia problem that is currently happening in the left,” an unmistakable reference to QAnon lies (previously seen during the pre-QAnon Pizzagate era) that liberal elites participate in the systematic sexual exploitation of children.
In what may be OAN's waning days, as DirecTV essentially replaced it with Fox Nation and some of its more visible “talent” have fled the sinking ship, OAN launched its own streaming service in an attempt to stay alive. While subscriber numbers are not publicly known, it seems unlikely that “OANN Live” will make up for the financial loss of OAN’s DirecTV contract.
More importantly, OAN’s conduct since losing DirecTV -- suing its former carrier, spreading Russian propaganda, convincing viewers that not only will vaccines kill people but some of them have to die, to say nothing of its shockingly hateful anti-LGBTQ content -- should make it clear to any TV provider that this litigious, conspiratorial disaster of a channel is simply not worth the trouble.
The January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump was a watershed moment for conservative media. The “peaceful transition of power” that has long been a force in the mythologization of American democracy broke down that day, and rather than owning up to the gravity of a violent attack on that tradition, One America News Network stuck to its familiar playbook of lies and deceit – this time in service of increasing voter suppression.
A survey performed in September 2021 found that 68% of Republicans wrongly believed that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Among Republicans who primarily trust far-right outlets like OAN, 97% believed the election was stolen. This correlation is no coincidence, and right-wing media’s continued lies about the 2020 election have provided fuel for nationwide voter suppression efforts by the GOP. In the wake of the Capitol attack, OAN became an important part of the conservative media campaign pushing a whopping 440 bills in state legislatures in 2021 that attempted to restrict voting access.
Voter suppression is nothing new for the conservative movement, but OAN used the aftermath of January 6 to double down on election lies and promote efforts to make voting more difficult for its fellow Americans – while priming its right-wing audience for a potential civil war.
OAN helped drive a frenzy for fraudulent election audits
OAN correspondent Christina Bobb disputed the 2020 election results before a winner was even declared, a moment which was a harbinger for her coverage in 2021. Fueled by a passionate embrace of the Big Lie that the election had been stolen, Bobb essentially became a salesperson for election audits in any state that would entertain the idea.
Bobb provided documents and testimony to get the Arizona audit in motion, and founded a nonprofit to raise money for the audit. Her group Voices & Votes raised $605,000 for the Arizona audit, or about 10% of its cost, undoubtedly in part because of Bobb’s frequent fundraising during her audit coverage on OAN.
The amateurish operation in Arizona appears to be the playbook for other so-called “audits” going forward, even though it confirmed both President Joe Biden’s victory in the state and the oft-asserted fact that there was no significant fraud. But that didn’t stop Bobb or other audit extremists.
Bobb has been concentrating her efforts to spread audits to Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Michigan, counting on friendly GOP legislatures to indulge in the Big Lie. Some states, like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, are making moves toward their own audits. In Texas, which Trump won handily, preliminary results of an audit have once again confirmed earlier counts.
Besides its own correspondent, OAN has helped create a second star of the right-wing election fraud movement. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell was already known before the 2020 election to be a prolific, unhinged Trump supporter, but Lindell’s delusions turned into an erratic fusillade of election lies, and -- unprecedented in television news -- the wealthy pillow CEO acquired vast swaths of OAN airtime in 2021 to zealously push his own false claims and conspiracy theories.
OAN followed the symposium and defamation suit by letting Lindell take over its evening programming on at leastthreeoccasions. In his “The Lindell Report” the businessman aired even more potentially defamatory election lies.
OAN backed voter suppression attempts nationwide
Pursuant to its whole-of-network embrace of the Big Lie, OAN gave friendly coverage to or expressed outright support of several voter suppression efforts in states all over the country.
OAN’s prime-time shows became important stops for Texas state legislators to promote Senate Bill 7, which “includes provisions to limit early voting hours, curtail local voting options and further tighten voting by mail.” On June 1, OAN’s Natalie Harp hosted GOP state Rep. Kyle Biedermann to raise concerns about “a lot of things going on against the laws” in 2020, like “drive-thru voting” and “ballots that were mailed out that shouldn’t have been mailed out.” OAN’s Dan Ball hosted state Sen. Bob Hall, who claimed that SB 7 would guard against what he called “soft fraud” by “election officials taking advantage of rules to bend them as much as they could in their favor.” According to Media Matters’ data, since December 2020, eight Texas state legislators have made at least 23 appearances on OAN prime time, many of them clustered around the SB 7 debate.
The Georgia omnibus election bill was another focal point of OAN programming, particularly since the network is also interested in fomenting an election audit in Georgia. In ostensible news segments, OAN reports called Senate Bill 202 a “voting rights bill” that is “securing integrity for future elections,” and literally laughed at the notion that anyone would take issue with these “common-sense changes.” The Justice Department filed suit against Georgia over a long list of “racially discriminatory” provisions in the law, including “the prohibition on efforts by churches and civic groups to provide food or water to persons waiting in long lines to vote.”
OAN frequently turns to one guest in particular for Georgia political commentary: former state representative and current gubernatorial candidate Vernon Jones. According to Media Matters' data, Jones has made at least 26 appearances on OAN prime time since December 2020 -- often dedicated to promoting his campaign for governor while pushing election lies and audit attempts.
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CitationFrom the October 5, 2021, edition of OAN's Real America with Dan Ball
OAN primed its audience for more political violence
On June 23, correspondent Pearson Sharp drew widespread condemnation for an OAN segment suggesting mass executions of Democrats for supposedly stealing the election from Trump.
Declaring the 2020 election was actually “overthrown,” Sharp told his audience: “Any American involved in these efforts, from those who ran the voting machines to the very highest government officials, is guilty of treason under U.S. Code. 2381, which carries with it the penalty of death.”
Despite the unmistakable clarity of Sharp’s words, he told Talking Points Memo, “Neither I, nor OAN, are suggesting anyone should be executed,” but added, “That is for the appropriate law enforcement agencies to determine.”
Sharp’s midsummer bloodlust wasn’t much of an aberration for One America News Network. OAN guests have casually gamed out civil war scenarios on-air, and the network has aired reports accusing “retired Democrat generals” of spreading civil war allegations against Republicans, while falsely claiming “evidence indicates that it is actually the left that is at war.”
Though she did not directly suggest violence, Bobb brought in the new year by strongly denouncing the Biden administration as “fascist” and “illegitimate,” in part for having “faked an insurrection on the Capitol” and stealing the 2020 election. For a conservative steeped in Second Amendment mythology about “the tree of liberty” and “the blood of tyrants,” the dots don’t need to be connected.
Wayne Allyn Root, a radio host and far-right conspiracy theorist, appeared on OAN in December and denounced Biden’s “communist dictatorship” for stealing both the 2020 election and Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats, giving Democrats their current tie-breaking Senate majority “destroying this country.” Root accused Democrats of “looking for a civil war,” which he claimed conservatives like him do not want -- but later in the same rant, Root said that the oppression of conservatives by the Democratic Party “is a lot worse” than the conditions that merited the American Revolution.
“The worst is yet to come,” Root warned.
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CitationFrom the December 29, 2021, edition of OAN's The Real Story with Natalie Harp
OAN is headed into 2022 with more of the same lies, and little care for any negative consequences
From OAN’s perspective, 2021 was a good year for “election integrity.” OAN’s Bobb fought for and secured an Arizona election audit, and successfully spun the mundane results into enough fuel to keep pushing for more audits. OAN collected viewers and money from airing MyPillow’s Lindell, even if it did help get the network sued for defamation. Several of the voter suppression initiatives OAN supported became law. OAN’s suggestions of political violence have retained a veneer of plausible deniability while priming the audience with fury and fear to keep pushing for more voter suppression.
Reckless, false commentary about stolen elections and calls for punishing enemies are how we got Trump supporters invading the Capitol, menacing members of Congress, and chanting to execute Trump’s vice president one year ago. But it’s all just good business for OAN.
Born in a constellation of right-wing think tanks, the outrage against "critical race theory" spent over a year in the metastasizing embrace of right-wing media, churning up hatred against discussions of race in schools.
As this deceptive marketing reached a fever pitch, there was an explosion in Facebookgroups being formed or shifting their focus to opposing critical race theory in schools. These groups were a nexus for supporters to organize in-person disruptions at school board meetings.
This astroturfed frenzy against supposed CRT in schools led to threats and harassment against school board members nationwide, and, in Virginia, helped propel Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin to the governor's mansion.
Assigning national importance to a statewide election can be reckless; anti-CRT outrage did notprevaileverywhere in the 2021 election. But for the effort and money that conservative activists and media put into defining the Virginia gubernatorial race with critical race theory, it is clear that these charlatans will attempt to export the Virginia playbook nationally in 2022 and beyond.
The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think "critical race theory." We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.
— Christopher F. Rufo \u2694\ufe0f (@Christopher F. Rufo \u2694\ufe0f)
As Manhattan Institute senior fellow Christopher Rufo, who helped launch the campaign, has explained, the goal is to "put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category" so that people "read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think 'critical race theory.'" Other right-wing institutions and groups, like the Heritage Foundation, joined in the fray with events, activist toolkits, model legislation, and pushes for bans made in concert with lawmakers.
From there, advocacy groups use this think tank framework to generate local outrage against critical race theory. According to an NBC News analysis, there are now "at least 165 local and national groups that aim to disrupt lessons on race and gender," and several of the most prominent ones are headed by Republican activists and strategists. These groups cram local controversies into the CRT framework established by Rufo and others, disrupt school board meetings, and place spokespeople in media appearances -- sometimes professional spokespeople, who are instead described as local parents.
The noise and attention from these professionally operated, think tank-inspired groups then generates coverage from an obsequious and obsessive right-wing media, champing at the bit for any angle that will hurt Democrats and help Republicans. Empowered by the outrage suddenly all over TV -- to the tune of hundreds of Fox mentions per month, plus loads more from OAN and Newsmax -- GOP politicians find incentive to take legislative action to drastically limit the teaching of civil rights, sometimes even banning books altogether.
This feedback loop is a concerted strategy whose first trial run was the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial election. It is not a grassroots movement, it is not a natural response to alleged left-wing excesses, and it is not about what is best for children. It is a top-down attempt by professional political operatives to morph political landscapes to suit their racially regressive needs. And, at least in Virginia, it seems to have worked.
Glenn Youngkin made critical race theory the closing argument to his campaign and dominated in blue Virginia. \n\nWe are building the most sophisticated political movement in America\u2014and we have just begun.
— Christopher F. Rufo \u2694\ufe0f (@Christopher F. Rufo \u2694\ufe0f)
As Rufo promised, the professional outrage against critical race theory has only just begun. As the next election looms, critical race theory (or similar dog whistles like "parents' rights") will suddenly get thousands of TV mentions again, and professional GOP operatives will again call themselves mere concerned parents. Think tankers may even publicly discuss their exact plans again, because they know it won't cause any harm; enough ofthe mainstreammedia will still cover these anti-CRT outrages as grassroots "education" issues, instead of what they are: a think tank astroturf project.
Reuters published the first part of a special report today, revealing AT&T's central role in the creation and continued survival of One America News Network.
According to court records reviewed by Reuters, OAN founder Robert Herring Sr. testified that AT&T "told us they wanted a conservative network. … When they said that, I jumped to it and built one." Records also indicate that according to an OAN accountant, "ninety percent of OAN's revenue came from a contract with AT&T-owned television platforms." According to an AT&T filing that cites Herring's numbers, AT&T has paid OAN "about $57 million" in fees, though an AT&T spokesperson claimed this number is inaccurate.
OAN and all of its lies would not exist, and could not survive, without AT&T's blessing.
Whatever the figure AT&T has paid to help keep OAN alive, the network has been using the airwaves to push toxic -- and often dangerous -- misinformation.
That includes a deadly TV campaignagainst COVID-19 vaccines, hateful anti-LGBTQ content, and a network-wide assault on elections meant to hype bogus claims of fraud and overturn the 2020 results. The election attacks include a reporter's nonprofit seeking to fund fraudulent election "audits" around the country, a dementedobsession with the MyPillow CEO and his money, and a correspondent's call for mass executions of election officials. And that's to say nothing of the host who used a racial slur on air or another host's apparent wish to shoot unhoused people.
We now know that AT&T didn't just choose this; it asked for this. Herring delivered, and we are all worse off for it.
Outside of AT&T, OAN is actively trying to expand its reach by encouraging its audience to pressure both Comcast and Charter Spectrum to carry the network. Its website features a prominent call for readers to call both providers and tell them that "you want OAN added to your channel lineup."
From the first of two parts of the Reuters special report:
OAN founder and chief executive Robert Herring Sr has testified that the inspiration to launch OAN in 2013 came from AT&T executives. "They told us they wanted a conservative network," Herring said during a 2019 deposition seen by Reuters. "They only had one, which was Fox News, and they had seven others on the other [leftwing] side. When they said that, I jumped to it and built one." Since then, AT&T has been a crucial source of funds flowing into OAN, providing tens of millions of dollars in revenue, court records show. Ninety percent of OAN's revenue came from a contract with AT&T-owned television platforms, including satellite broadcaster DirecTV, according to 2020 sworn testimony by an OAN accountant. Herring has testified he was offered $250 million for OAN in 2019. Without the DirecTV deal, the accountant said under oath, the network's value "would be zero." … In a pivotal moment for the company, the Herrings say in court filings, depositions and sworn statements, unidentified AT&T executives told them there was an audience for another conservative news network. Herring seized the opportunity. In his 2019 deposition in the labor suit unrelated to AT&T, the elder Herring said he created OAN for two reasons. "To make money, number one," Robert Herring said. "But number two, is that AT&T told us … they wanted a conservative network." The lawyer questioning Herring, Rodney Diggs, followed up. "So," the lawyer said, "AT&T kind of dictated the kind of network that they wanted. Because there was an opportunity, you jumped at it?" "Yes, sir," Herring replied.
On March 2, Fox News announced on air that former White House press secretary and former Trump 2020 senior adviser Kayleigh McEnany has joined "the Fox family." McEnany's new employment was initially reported in late January, shortly after the January 6 insurrection, though at the time Fox denied the report, and her offer was reportedly "put on pause." McEnany was a regular fixture on Fox News even when she worked at the White House - appearing on the network at least 326 times since August 2017.
Fox News Channel has long been part of a revolvingdoor for GOP politics. Given Fox's devotion to former President Donald Trump's agenda and its flailing attempts to win back viewers from rival right-wing TV channels, McEnany is a natural fit for a network that specializes in partisan lies and misdirection. And for a Trumpist liar as prolific as McEnany, there may not be many options for her beyond Fox.
At her first briefing as press secretary, McEnany promised not to lie to the media, then told multiple lies before that 15-minute session even ended. Much like her fellow Trump lackeys, McEnany "lies the way that most people breathe," including in absurdly shameless moments like when she defended Trump's indefensible lie that COVID-9 affects "virtually nobody," or when she lied that Trump never downplayed the pandemic, despite a public tape of Trump doing exactly that at length. On virtually any topic, there are examples of McEnany bending, avoiding, or outright subverting the truth in absolute service to Trump -- exactly the outlook that is foundational to Fox News.
Perhaps the worst lie McEnany told was one that was also promoted all over Fox News: that the 2020 election may have been stolen from Trump, which ultimately led to a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. McEnany, appearing in one or two of her roles (sometimes it got confusing), pushed that lie in numerous Fox appearances after Trump lost the 2020 election, appearing on Hannity 20 times during that period. As a sign of McEnany's priorities, she gave only three press briefings (which were also full of lies) in her official White House capacity during the same time period.
Threatened by competition from both mainstream and even more conservative channels and breaking promises to its remaining advertisers, Fox News is doubling down on the malicious lies of Trumpism in hiring McEnany, including the voter fraud lie that led to an attack on Congress, five deaths, more than 280 arrests, and a second Trump impeachment. With the former president deplatformed and potentially facing legal jeopardy, it seems that those remaining stuck in the Fox-Trump revolving door will do whatever they can to hold on to ratings and influence.
On January 30, the Los Angeles Timesreported that "members of anti-vaccine and far-right groups" caused a COVID-19 mass vaccination site in LA's Dodger Stadium to temporarily shut down. Although the disruption "ultimately did little to inhibit vaccine distribution" and there was no violence reported, media should more proactively describe these actions as not mere "protests," but as expressions of a dangerous and increasingly interconnected world of conspiracy theories.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the group didn't prevent anyone from making their appointment, though some people had to wait for an extra hour. Los Angeles County has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, with an estimated 1 in 3 Angelenos contracting COVID-19 at some point.
A post on social media described the demonstration as the "Scamdemic Protest/March." It advised participants to "please refrain from wearing Trump/MAGA attire as we want our statement to resonate with the sheeple. No flags but informational signs only. "This is a sharing information protest and march against everything COVID, Vaccine, PCR Tests, Lockdowns, Masks, Fauci, Gates, Newsom, China, digital tracking, etc."
Despite the importance of the extremism angle, most coverage of the Dodger Stadium vaccination disruption rendered the anti-vaxxers responsible for the shutdown as just "protesters." Though their activities met the definition of a "protest," media should be wary of comparing QAnon conspiracy theorists opposed to voluntary vaccinations during a deadly pandemic to ordinary political protesters based in this reality.
Los Angeles Times
The Times also published a good headline about the "anti-vax 'mob'"
In an interview with ABC anchor David Muir, President Donald Trump repeated Fox News talking points about coronavirus models. This was his first broadcast network television interview since he spoke to NBC's Chuck Todd in June 2019.
Fox News personalities have been using the wide array of COVID-19 models and projections to cast doubt on all modeling predicting the number of coronavirus-related cases and deaths. In response to rising projections of COVID-19 deaths in the country -- and seizing on confusion about the number of the models, what they mean, and which ones are used by whom -- Fox figures are downplaying the accuracy of models in general, calling them "a bit of a crapshoot," and dismissing their predictions since "we don't factor in human ingenuity."
In his interview on ABCWorld News Tonight, Trump directly echoed that language:
From the May 5, 2020, edition of ABC World News Tonight with David Muir
DAVID MUIR (ANCHOR): You talk about the embers and the possible big fires. There were two new studies out in the last 24 hours. I know that the White House has shot down a couple of them saying they weren't vetted through your task force. One was from Johns Hopkins that said, the death rate could double if we're not careful with this reopening of America by June, the daily death rate. The University of Washington saying we could have 135,000 Americans dead by August. What do you make of those numbers, Mr. President? PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: A couple of things. First of all, these models have been so wrong from day one. Both on the low side and the upside. They've been so wrong, they've been so out of whack. And they keep making new models, new models and they're wrong. Those models that you're mentioning are talking about without mitigation. We're mitigating and we've learned to mitigate, but we can be in place, work in place, and also mitigate. We've done it right, but now we have to get back to work. We have to do it. MUIR: But let me ask you because you've responded to those two new studies out with these forecasts, your own numbers have shifted over time. TRUMP: They have. They have. MUIR: You said 60,000 Americans could die. That's what you said last week, I watched your town all over the weekend. You said 75, 80 to 100,000 people could die. Which models are you looking at, and what should Americans be prepared for as we reopen the country and head into the fall where we could see a potential second wave? TRUMP: Well, the upper number was, as you know, 2.2 million people. And then there are some, some models or charts that showed higher than that. But 2.2 million people. I always felt 60, 65, 70 -- as, as horrible as that is. I mean, you're talking about filling up Yankee stadium with death. So I thought it was horrible, but it's probably going to be somewhat higher than that.
In the interview, Trump repeated his mischaracterization of the models from earlier in the day, wrongly saying that they assume "no mitigation." In fact, as Vox noted, the models "are based on the relaxation of social distancing that Trump has been championing." Muir did not note this.
Here's how Fox figures have talked about coronavirus models in recent days
Fox News host Greg Gutfeld: "That's the amazing thing about how climate models and disease models can never predict much, because we don't factor in human ingenuity."
Neil Cavuto, Fox News senior vice president, anchor, and managing editor of business news: The variance in projection models "just seems to me to be a bit of a crapshoot here."
Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade: "One thing is pretty certain: The models that we have been told to deal with have consistently been wrong, on the plus side and the negative side."
Fox News anchor Ed Henry: "The question seems to be, can we -- nobody is perfect, but can we trust this model when it keeps bouncing around like this?"
Ed Henry again: "There's all these models. … I think the bottom line is, people are wondering, are these models that seem very confusing and all over the place, that's what's being used to decide whether or not people remain on lockdown, and that's getting some people frustrated."
Fox News prime-time host Laura Ingraham: "About all of those bad models: The experts were all over the place in projecting the virus's lethality. … If you're not confused yet, now they're saying that 120, 134,000 could die from COVID by August. What? That's double what they were saying a few weeks ago."
Fox Business anchor Cheryl Casone: It "makes sense" for the White House to disagree with the projection showing 3,000 daily COVID-19 deaths because models have been "all over the place."
Fox hosts aren't alone in their nihilistic quest to undermine models. Conspiracy theorist Rush Limbaugh, whom Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in February, has repeatedly argued against all scientific models, once claiming, "The bias I have against modeling is justified, because it comes from climate change."
Was Trump correct stating the COVID-19 models were
“wrong from day one”?
Did Trump's prediction of 60,000 Americans dying
from COVID-19 come true?
As usual, Trump’s prediction didn’t exactly pan out. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, over 1.1 million Americans have died from the COVID-19 virus. In fact, in Trump’s current home state of Florida, over 85,000 Floridians have succumbed to the coronavirus. Other U.S. states that eclipsed Trump’s false prediction include California, New York and Texas. Trump’s prediction is even worse when considering COVID-19 deaths outside of the United States. The total number of deaths worldwide due to COVID-19 is 6.8 million as of February 2023. This total is approximately 113 times worse than Trump predicted.
Was Trump correct in calling for the end of mitigation
measures, such as “work from home”?
Once again, Trump was not correct. Mitigation measures, such as working from home, saved lives before COVID-19 vaccines became widely available in 2021. According to one study, “…stay-at-home orders might have reduced confirmed cases by 390,000…and fatalities by 41,000…within the first three weeks in localities that implemented stay-at-home orders.” If Trump succeeded at ending mitigation measures, many more Americans could have died from COVID-19.
Federal data on excess U.S. deaths since the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic shows a sharper rise in deaths than confirmed COVID-19 fatalities alone account for, according to a Yale University analysis conducted for The Washington Post. Though the excess deaths -- "the number beyond what would normally be expected for that time of year" -- are "not necessarily attributable directly to covid-19," the Yale analysis suggests "the death toll from the pandemic is significantly higher than has been reported."
This is the clearest look I've seen at excess mortality in the United States. Data suggests twice as many excess de… https://t.co/4A9hvkZJi4
The data deeply undermines the right-wing media claim that coronavirus fatalities are being over-counted. Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree and conspiracy theorist Rush Limbaugh said that "governments are eager, almost, to chalk up as many deaths to coronavirus as they can because then it furthers the policies they have put in place." Fox's Brit Hume notably argued on Twitter and on-air that fatalities in New York were over-counted because the figures don't "distinguish between those who die with the disease and those who die from it." Fox contributor and Laura Ingraham sidekick Raymond Arroyo even suggested that hospitals have a financial incentive to inflate COVID-19 fatalities, which was also echoed by One America News Network host Graham Ledger.
A widespread conspiracy theory of "empty hospitals" also made rounds on social media and on Fox, its proponents alleging that photos and videos of hospital parking lots and waiting rooms proved that the pandemic was not as bad as the media reported. Among many others, the theory was promoted by Fox News host Steve Hilton, Fox contributor Sara Carter, and former Fox contributor Todd Starnes.
The Fox prime-time lineup was eager to declare "Mission Accomplished" in early April, because reported deaths did not match the severity of earlier projections, ignoring all of the work and sacrifice that went into pushing the curve downward.
It is little wonder that after weeks of reckless coverage from Fox and other right-wing media, Fox News viewers have come to falsely believe that the number of COVID-19 fatalities has been inflated.
During a coronavirus press conference, President Donald Trump suggested that injecting disinfectant into people could be a potential treatment for COVID-19. This is false; disinfectants are not meant to be consumed by humans in any way, and Trump arguably clarified later that he wasn't talking about a physical injection. The initial comment prompted outcry from medical experts and media figures, and the disinfectant brand Lysol issued a statement warning against internal use of its products. While some in right-wing media admitted that Trump said what he said, others mounted an uncoordinated campaign to make some sort of sense of the president's displayed ignorance.
At the briefing, Department of Homeland Security official Bill Bryan made several comments about research indicating that "heat and humidity suppress COVID-19" and "commonly available disinfectants work to kill the virus." Then, Trump took the stage and delivered the following comment:
"The disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute, and is there a way we can do something like that by injectio… https://t.co/9MMW0IcVCT
Several conservative outlets, such as the Washington Examiner and the Daily Caller (which called it a "hypothetical") admitted that Trump did in fact suggest injecting disinfectant to fight coronavirus. Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy and Fox chief White House correspondent John Roberts also admitted on-air that Trump suggested using something poisonous inside the body and that people should not do it.
However, not all of right-wing media is so upfront about what Trump said. The Fox News website ran an article with the headline "Media erupt over Trump comments on disinfectant and sunlight to cure coronavirus: Here's what he said," suggesting that mainstream media is taking Trump out of context. The lede claimed that Trump "appeared to suggest" injecting disinfectants and the author waited until the 13th paragraph to confirm that Trump "did suggest" doing so, while claiming he "made clear it was not a definitive recommendation."
Fox's website featured the article with the phrase: "TWISTED WORDS?"
On his radio show, MSNBC's Hugh Hewitt attacked the media for "abusing ... Trump's comments on ultraviolet light" because "he didn't say what they say he said." Hewitt also promised to never buy Lysol products again, due to the company's statement against internal use of its products.
Hugh Hewitt: "I am never buying Lysol again" after spokesman's statement against Trump comments. "That's not what the president said."
Ben Shapiro's The Daily Wire took a much harder line, posting a "FACT CHECK" that claimed "Trump did not tell people to 'inject themselves with disinfectant' or 'drink bleach.'" The article focused on DHS official Bill Bryan, who spoke before Trump did, euphemistically using the word "inject" and saying, in the article's words, that "when they 'inject' UV rays into the mix along with high temperatures and increased humidity, ...the virus dies quickly."
The Daily Wire blockquotes Trump's comments, but fails to address the part that shows his suggestion to inject disinfectant. Instead, the article tries to suggest that Trump and Bryan were talking about the same UV light topic all along, focusing on Trump "later rais[ing] the possibility of whether UV rays could kill the coronavirus if it was on a person's skin." The article does not mention that excessive UV light exposure causes skin cancer.
Breitbart took a similar line to that of The Daily Wire, ludicrously claiming in its "fact check," that "Trump used the word 'inject,' but what he meant was using a process — which he left 'medical doctors' to define — in which patients' lungs might be cleared of the virus, given new knowledge about its response to light and other factors. … At no time did Trump actually propose injecting patients with disinfectant."
On April 22, Voxreported on a working paper from the University of Chicago's Becker Friedman Institute for Economics which shows "statistical evidence" that areas with higher viewership of Fox News host Sean Hannity's program, relative to fellow prime-time host Tucker Carlson's show, correlated with "higher local rates of infection and death" due to COVID-19.
According to the article, the study authors "calculate that Fox viewers who watched Hannity rather than Carlson were less likely to adhere to social distancing rules, and that areas where more people watched Hannity relative to Carlson had higher local rates of infection and death."
As Vox noted, the working paper "hasn't been peer reviewed or accepted for publication at a journal" and we should therefore be "especially cautious" in drawing wide-reaching conclusions. But the paper is "consistent with a wide body of research finding that media consumption in general, and Fox News viewership in particular, can have a pretty powerful effect on individual behavior."
In fact, at least sevendifferent polls have highlighted the extent to which Fox News has misinformed its viewers about the novel coronavirus. Forty-five percent of frequent Fox viewers believe the reported death toll is inflated, and people who watch Fox News are more likely to claim that the media is exaggerating the threat of COVID-19. According to Vox, viewers who tuned into Hannity downplaying coronavirus through February and part of March "were less likely to adhere to social distancing rules" and changed their behavior nearly a week later than viewers of Carlson's show.
From the Vox article:
Using both a poll of Fox News viewers over age 55 and publicly available data on television-watching patterns, they calculate that Fox viewers who watched Hannity rather than Carlson were less likely to adhere to social distancing rules, and that areas where more people watched Hannity relative to Carlson had higher local rates of infection and death. "Greater exposure to Hannity relative to Tucker Carlson Tonight leads to a greater number of COVID-19 cases and deaths," they write. "A one-standard deviation increase in relative viewership of Hannity relative to Carlson is associated with approximately 30 percent more COVID-19 cases on March 14, and 21 percent more COVID-19 deaths on March 28." This is a working paper; it hasn't been peer reviewed or accepted for publication at a journal. However, it's consistent with a wide body of research finding that media consumption in general, and Fox News viewership in particular, can have a pretty powerful effect on individual behavior. … "Viewers of Hannity changed their behavior five days later than viewers of other shows," they write. "Viewers of Tucker Carlson Tonight changed their behavior three days earlier than viewers of other shows." The final part of the paper uses two different regression models to show that, in fact, there is good reason to believe that Hannity viewership did increase coronavirus deaths relative to Carlson viewership. In the first model, they compare data on the two shows' ratings in different areas to county-level data on coronavirus infections and deaths. Specifically, they compare Hannity viewership to coronavirus rates two weeks later — the time it would take for the virus to start presenting in virtually all infected, symptomatic individuals. After controlling for a number of confounding variables, ranging from overall television viewership rates to demographic factors like race, they find a clear relationship: Areas with greater Hannity viewership had more cases and more deaths. This relationship weakened after Hannity changes his show's tune in mid-March, suggesting that it is in fact the programming driving the changes.
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