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Amid National Crisis, Trump Is Still Taking Cues From Fox News

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

You can't disaggregate President Donald Trump's unnervingly aggressive tweets over the past few days in response to nationwide protests from the context of the cable news coverage he's been watching. American cities are burning, and Fox News is encouraging Trump to pour fuel on the fire.

Protests are ongoing in cities across the country in response to police violence and racism, sparked by the recent police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. Those overwhelmingly peaceful protests have spurred an eruption of police violence toward protesters and journalists alike, as well as rioting, arson, looting, and vandalism from a small minority acting out of anger or opportunism.

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With Attack On Scarborough, Trump Sends A ‘Mob Boss’ Message

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

President Donald Trump has taken time out in recent days from hyping false allegations about vague crimes purportedly committed by his predecessor, Barack Obama, to hype false allegations about a very specific crime purportedly committed by one of his critics in the media, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough.

In a series of vile, unhinged Twitter rants, Trump has repeatedly promoted the conspiracy theory that Scarborough murdered Lori Kaye Klausutis, his former staffer, calling for new investigations by law enforcement and by online "forensic geniuses."

"Psycho Joe Scarborough is rattled, not only by his bad ratings but all of the things and facts that are coming out on the internet about opening a Cold Case," the president wrote this morning. "He knows what is happening!"

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Fresh Evidence That Fox News ‘Miracle Drug’ Is Ineffective — And Dangerous

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

It would have been nice if the drug Fox News had promoted to President Donald Trump's attention as a miracle cure for COVID-19 had actually worked. But that doesn't seem to be the case.

"A study of 96,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients on six continents found that those who received an antimalarial drug promoted by President Trump as a 'game changer' in the fight against the virus had a significantly higher risk of death compared with those who did not," The Washington Post reported Friday. "People treated with hydroxychloroquine, or the closely related drug chloroquine, were also more likely to develop a type of irregular heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, that can lead to sudden cardiac death, it concluded."

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Trump Is Upset Because Fox News Isn’t Pure Enough Propaganda

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

President Donald Trump recognizes that Fox News' purpose is to help elect Republicans, and he is dissatisfied with the right-wing network's strategy for accomplishing that goal.

Trump lashed out Thursday after something he saw while watching his favorite network during his flight to Michigan apparently upset him. On Twitter, he criticized Fox for "doing nothing to help Republicans, and me, get re-elected on November 3rd," particularly criticizing the network for hosting Democratic strategists and anchors who "repeat the worst of the Democrat speaking points, and lies."

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Sen. Graham Using Judiciary Committee To Enact Partisan Vengeance

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Journalists should treat Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) pending Judiciary Committee hearings into the origins of the FBI's Russia probe as an abuse of power intended as political payback. After all, Graham has explicitly said that would be why he would conduct such an inquiry.

Graham issued a startling threat during an appearance on Sean Hannity's Fox News show on November 14, 2018. House Democrats had just won a majority in the midterm elections, and their incoming committee chairs were proposing rigorous investigations of the Trump administration. But Republicans held the Senate, putting Graham in line to become chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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How Fox’s Tucker Carlson Manipulates Trump

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

President Donald Trump apparently changed his mind about whether the United States should fund the World Health Organization in response to a monologue from Fox News host Tucker Carlson. It's at least the third time this year that Carlson's program has triggered major changes in U.S. policy, an indication of just how effective the Fox prime-time star is at manipulating the president.

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Acting DNI Deploys Pseudo-Document To Promote ‘Obamagate’ Melodrama

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, a former Fox News contributor and Republican Party stalwart who was appointed to lead the U.S. intelligence community because of his loyalty to President Donald Trump, provided a document of his own devising to Congress on Wednesday. It promptly leaked to the press. Republicans, including Trump himself, immediately seized on the content in the document as evidence of vast Obama administration malfeasance. Fox hosts spent the next two days incessantly declaring that it vindicated their conspiracy theories, turning their attention away from the coronavirus pandemic. And more credible media outlets, buffeted by the partisan claims, responded with a flurry of stories, at times failing to properly contextualize the story.

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Fox News Pundits Want Trump To Fire Fauci

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Dr. Anthony Fauci's warning on Tuesday that reopening the country too soon could trigger "avoidable suffering and death" from the novel coronavirus drew a furious response from the Fox News hosts closest to President Donald Trump. The right-wing propagandists seem to be on a mission to force the top infectious disease expert's removal from the administration amid an ongoing pandemic that has already killed more than 80,000 Americans, and they may have enough influence over the president to succeed.

Fauci, who as director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has advised five presidents on pandemic response, said during a Senate hearing that states that ignore federal guidelines and prematurely reopen businesses and roll back social distancing measures risk causing new outbreaks of the coronavirus. Those spikes, he said, would both lead to more deaths and harm the economy. Fauci also argued that the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 is likely higher than the recorded figure and that the virus would likely return in the fall and winter.

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Trump’s Fox News Fixation Shaped Disastrous Pandemic Response

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Fox News helped set the direction of nearly every aspect of the disastrous federal response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

President Donald Trump's early downplaying of the danger posed by the virus, the brief period in which he treated it more seriously, his unceasing championing of an antimalarial drug as a miracle cure, his breakneck swerve against social distancing measures, and his incessant demands to reopen the economy regardless of whether public health officials believe it to be safe all have their roots in the network's coverage.

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Fox News Scapegoats ‘Diamond and Silk’ For Network’s Coronavirus Lies

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

For the second time in a month, Fox News has cut ties with commentators over their unhinged remarks about the novel coronavirus. This time, the casualties are Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, sisters who under the stage names "Diamond" and "Silk" had parlayed their obsequious support for President Donald Trump into vlogging stardom, regular Fox appearances, and a show on Fox's streaming service, Fox Nation. But there have been no new episodes of their program since April 7, and The Daily Beast reported Monday that the pair had lost their network gig after coming "under fire for promoting conspiracy theories and disinformation about the coronavirus." The report follows Media Matters' comprehensive reporting on their virus lies.

Diamond and Silk's departure isn't a sign that Fox is becoming more responsible about its handling of the pandemic. The network doesn't have hard standards against lies, bigotry, or conspiracy theories that it enforces on its right-wing commentators. Instead, it has a public relations strategy that revolves around sacrificing low-level employees when they draw too much negative media attention for their remarks, while protecting its big stars when they do the same thing.

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Trump Encourages Far-Right Protests After Watching Them On Fox News

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

President Donald Trump endorsed conservative protests against social distancing measures in three states immediately after Fox News aired a segment on the efforts, dumping gasoline on a movement that threatens the fragile consensus on steps public health experts say are preventing nightmarish death figures from the novel coronavirus.

Beginning at 11:19 a.m. ET, Fox's America's Newsroom ran a segment detailing a wave of protests against stay-at-home orders from governors of Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia. Fox aired a package featuring footage from a protest in Virginia and another in Minnesota, with Fox News correspondent Mike Tobin quoting the group "Liberate Minnesota" calling the stay-at-home order "an overreaction." Co-anchor Ed Henry then interviewed a Michigan sheriff who is defying Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's order in that state.

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Trump Supporters Claim Pandemic Death Stats Are ‘Inflated’

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

As the death toll from the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 soars in the U.S. and statistical models predict more than 100,000 to come, conservative media personalities are pushing the ghoulish argument that the fatality statistics are "inflated" because they count people who died with the disease but also had underlying conditions. This is the next frontier in the right's effort to downplay the effect of the coronavirus in order to defend President Donald Trump.

New York City's Health Department breaks down its data for COVID-19 deaths by identifying how many of the deceased had underlying conditions, how many did not, and how many for whom that information is currently unknown. Some online conspiracy theorists have argued that only the death toll for the tiny fraction of cases without underlying conditions should be considered, a frame subsequently adopted by some right-wing media figures. But as the Daily Dot noted in demolishing this talking point, a large percentage of Americans have at least one of the listed conditions, which include high blood pressure, asthma, and diabetes.

In fact, COVID-19's death toll is almost certainly being undercounted. The Wall Street Journal analyzed data from Italy and concluded that as the virus stretched the health care system to its breaking point, "many people who die from the virus don't make it to the hospital and are never tested," and thus are not included in the official count. By comparing the number of deaths in particular communities to the same period a year ago, the Journal concluded that the true count is "far higher" than the recorded one. Evidence from Spain and anecdotal reports from the United States suggest that the Italian experience is not an anomaly.

But that hasn't kept leading right-wing media figures, including people from both Fox News' "opinion" and "news" sides, from pushing the flawed argument that the count is being exaggerated.

"I cannot find anywhere the definition of what it means to die from this virus," Fox host Mark Levin noted on his BlazeTV show earlier this week. "In other words," he continued, "if I go into the hospital and I already have a very, very bad heart, and I'm not given a whole lot of time, and then I get this virus, and it puts me over the edge, is that counted as dying from heart failure, heart disease, a heart attack, if you have one, or the virus?" "I don't know," he added.

Rush Limbaugh, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Trump and spent much of last month claiming that coronavirus was no different from the common cold, offered a similar argument today. "It's admittedly speculation," he claimed, but "what if we are recording a bunch of deaths to coronavirus which really should not be chalked up to coronavirus?" He continued: "People die on this planet every day from a wide variety of things. But because the coronavirus is out there, got everybody paranoid, 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 by virtue of their models."

Brit Hume, Fox's senior political analyst and the former lead anchor of the network's "news" side, was even more adamant. Hume highlighted what he termed a "very informative thread" on Twitter Wednesday evening and used it to argue that "NY's Covid 19 fatality numbers are inflated" because they don't "distinguish between those who die with the disease and those who die from it."

The thread Hume cited was written by someone whose Twitter bio identifies him as an "Investor" and "extreme salesman." The thread describes the New York City statistics as "cooked" and suggests that efforts to control the spread of the virus in Germany and the United Kingdom are using fascist tactics. The author has previously questioned whether the coronavirus is a "leaked bioweapon."

This wasn't the first time Hume has credulously promoted contrarian coronavirus takes from people with no relevant experience. Last month, he shared a "smart analysis" a Silicon Valley technologist had posted on Medium claiming that the virus's threat was relatively low and did not justify efforts by public health officials to close businesses. Medium took the piece down after experts dissected its shoddy statistical analysis, and Hume shared another Twitter thread debunking it after I called attention to his tweet.

Expect this argument to gain increasing credence on Fox and elsewhere in the right-wing media. In an effort to explain away the president's failure to contain the coronavirus, Trumpists will absurdly declare that the "real" coronavirus death toll is much lower than it is. They will pretend not to see the refrigerator trucks outside hospitals serving as temporary morgues to hold the excess of bodies, or the mass graves under construction as their final resting place.

We saw something similar after Hurricane Maria triggered a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. When the Puerto Rican government raised the official death toll to 2,975, based on estimates from an independent study it had commissioned, Trump claimed that the updated count was fake and an attempt to attack him politically — and his devoted right-wing media sycophants rushed to take his side.

After their network spent weeks downplaying the danger posed by the coronavirus, Fox personalities are now angrily denying that ever happened. But grappling with the full horror of what is happening would require them to place some amount of blame on the president, and they are desperately searching for ways to avoid that.

Fox News Must Control Its Dangerously Wacky Hosts

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Fox News “seems more and more like an asylum in the firm control of its inmates.” That is New York Times media columnist Ben Smith’s assessment of the network’s total failure to present credible information about the coronavirus pandemic. Smith reports that Fox’s executives have proven either unwilling or unable to constrain the network’s powerful opinion hosts, who instead take their cues from President Donald Trump. That management style has always been reckless. In the current pandemic, it proved disastrous. 

This needs to stop now — for the sake of public health and safety. 

Fox’s executives, from Fox Corp. chief executive Lachlan Murdoch and Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott on down, must force the network’s talent to come to grips with reality. They should establish clear guardrails for the network’s opinion hosts, explicitly delineating which topics are in and out of bounds during this crisis. This would likely require the network to vet every monologue, guest, and subject for every one of Fox’s right-wing propagandists to ensure they aren’t doing harm to the public.

If that won’t work, and Fox’s hosts are incapable of or unwilling to behave responsibly, Fox should take them off the air until the crisis is over and fill the airtime with more hours of programming from the network’s “news” side (which of course has had its own problematic coverage). Fox’s PR team can spin it as a need to put more resources into coronavirus news coverage, as they did when they benched Fox Business host Trish Regan after she embarrassed the network by ranting that coronavirus was “yet another attempt to impeach the president.”

If Fox does neither, the network’s leaders will bear partial responsibility for the calamitous death toll that is likely to ensue.

In presenting the “potentially lethal” consequences of Fox’s coverage, Smith is focused on how the network’s viewers could have been led to make poor health decisions. But there is a more acute threat that he does not assess: Trump is one of those viewers. The president is impulsive, suggestible, and primarily concerned with his public image, and throughout his tenure as president, he has relied on the network’s personalities for advice and taken action in direct response to what he has seen on their shows. 

That Fox-Trump feedback loop, unnerving in the best of circumstances, puts the nation in dire straits during a pandemic. The network’s politics-first coverage of the risks of coronavirus seemed to encourage Trump’s own lack of interest during the early stages of its spread, leading to a slow federal response. After Trump finally showed signs of taking the virus more seriously, many of the network’s hosts changed their tune last week and started informing their viewers they were facing a “crisis.” 

But Fox personalities have not remained focused on educating their viewers about the pressing need for personal protective equipment at hospitals or the social distancing practices that experts say will need to be maintained for weeks or months to flatten the curve of new cases, ease strain on the health care system, and prevent huge death tolls. Instead, they have pushed unproven quick fixes for coronavirus — and thus promoted them to Trump’s attention. And there are signs he is responding to their coverage.

Trump repeatedly touted the benefits of antimalarial medications in potentially curing coronavirus during press briefings last week. He even publicly contradicted his own top health officials, who warned that such evidence is limited and preliminary and that the drugs needed to be tested in clinical trials. The president’s interest in the drugs came after Fox hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham each ran segments touting their purported benefits. 

On Saturday morning, apparently responding to an Ingraham segment from the night before touting the results of a “small and hastily designed” study in France, Trump tweeted: “HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.” He added that the drugs should “be put in use IMMEDIATELY. PEOPLE ARE DYING, MOVE FAST,” and tagged the twitter handles of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Again, it’s unclear whether this treatment actually works. But with the president weighing in, Fox & Friends on Monday was instructing its audience on how to take it for coronavirus (patients who rely on hydroxychloroquine to treat other conditions are already reporting shortages): 

Fox hosts have also begun downplaying the importance of widespread social distancing. The federal government has called for a 15-day period of limited personal contact, and many states have closed schools and businesses and banned large gatherings. But Fox is suggesting that in order to limit damage to the economy, a better strategy would be to protect the elderly and sick while sending the rest of the country back to work. This could have devastating consequences — it would increase circulation of the virus, slamming hospitals with case loads well beyond their capacities. But this argument, too, seems to have captured Trump’s attention.

On Sunday night, Fox host Steve Hilton promoted the strategy, arguing, “You know that famous phrase, ‘The cure is worse than the disease’? That is exactly the territory we’re hurtling towards.” A few hours later, Trump tweeted, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”

Maybe the antimalarial drugs really will work. Maybe a continued lockdown is not the best tactic. But the U.S. strategy for confronting a global pandemic that is threatening the lives of millions of Americans should not be thrown into question because the president saw a Fox segment.

This cannot be allowed to continue. Fox executives need to accept their responsibility to both their viewers and the country and act accordingly. Unfortunately, the network’s executives have consistently refused to enforce standards and have shown a lack of interest in reining in their most toxic hosts. That is why Media Matters and other organizations have been working to hold Fox News accountable through advertiser education, asking Fox News’ remaining advertisers to pull their ads in order to stop sponsoring the spread of dangerous medical misinformation. We’ve also encouraged cable providers to stop charging their subscribers a monthly fee to fund Fox News’ lies.

The stakes have never been higher. Fox’s executives need to act — if they don’t, the results could be catastrophic.

White House Rescues Fox News After Shameful COVID-19 “Hoax” Coverage

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Fox News spent crucial weeks minimizing the danger posed by the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in order to protect President Donald Trump, and recent polls show that the network’s viewers are less likely to be concerned about it than other major media audiences. Top Trump administration officials are now praising the network for its coverage, even as Fox comes under fire from other outlets for endangering the public by actively spreading misinformation about the virus.

The Trump administration realizes that Fox’s propaganda is critically important in maintaining the support of the president’s base — 79 percent of weekday cable news appearances by its officials between January 23 and March 18* came on the network. While the network horrifically botched its coverage in the initial weeks of the pandemic, it did so in support of Trump’s own effort to downplay the impact of the virus

After Trump began publicly taking the coronavirus more seriously on Friday, Fox hosts seamlessly pivoted. After saying for weeks that the coronavirus was no big deal and that Democrats and the media were blowing it out of proportion to hurt Trump politically, the network’s hosts shifted to claiming that it posed so serious a crisis that criticism of the administration’s response should be off the table.

The administration appreciates their work.

“Let me just begin by saying thank you on the radio and airwaves all across America and on television,” Vice President Mike Pence told Fox host Sean Hannity during a Wednesday interview on Hannity’s radio show. “What you’ve been doing to broaden public understanding of the coronavirus, spreading the word, especially on the president’s coronavirus guidelines Fifteen Days to Slow the Spread.”

“We’re very very grateful that you’re bringing this important, timely information to the American people,” Pence added. 

Hannity, who has the most-watched show in cable news and advises the president, spent the early weeks of the pandemic decrying the “Coronavirus Hysteria!” and lashing out at people who he claimed were trying to “bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.” He and his guests repeatedly compared coronavirus to the flu, even though it is reportedly much more deadly and contagious. Hannity also invoked “violence in Chicago” to minimize coronavirus concerns. “So far in the United States, there’s been around 30 deaths, most of which came from one nursing home in the state of Washington,” he argued at one point. “Healthy people, generally, 99 percent recover very fast, even if they contract it.”

On his radio show, Hannity said he wasn’t that concerned with coronavirus because “we’re all dying,” told listeners to be skeptical of coronavirus warnings from news outlets and Democrats because “everything now has to be viewed through the prism of, oh, this is about the election,” and claimed that Trump’s opponents are “hoping Americans die and get sick and that we all lose a fortune in the stock market” in order to defeat his reelection campaign.

But on Friday, after Trump declared coronavirus a national emergency, Hannity said the virus was a “crisis” and called on the nation to unite behind the president. “Tonight, we are witnessing what will be a massive paradigm shift in the future of disease control and prevention,” he said. “A bold, new precedent is being set, the world will once again benefit greatly from America’s leadership. … The federal government, state governments, private businesses, top hospitals all coming together, under the president’s leadership, to stem the tide of the coronavirus.”

Hannity subsequently attacked “the media mob” for criticizing Fox’s coronavirus coverage, arguing that they are “doing the bidding of China” and threatening to hire lawyers to sue them for “slander, besmirchment, [and] character assassination.” 

Hannity is not the only Fox host to draw praise from the Trump administration. At the conclusion of a Wednesday night interview on her Fox show, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar told host Laura Ingraham, “Thanks for all you do also to keep us all informed.”

What Ingraham had done “to keep us all informed” in February and early March included lashing out at the coronavirus “panic pushers” and saying, “The facts are actually pretty reassuring, but you’d never know it watching all this stuff.” She claimed that it “seemed like some of the Trump haters” in media “were actually relishing in this moment,” because they view coronavirus as “a new pathway for hitting President Trump,” and she attacked Democrats who expressed concerns about the nation’s state of readiness as the “Pandemic Party.” 

Like Hannity, Ingraham shifted her tone last week, acknowledging the virus was a crisis but arguing that Trump had it well in hand. “In times of crisis, it helps to have a president who makes his own decisions, who marshals the right resources, and surrounds himself with the most competent people to do the job,” she said at one point. “He has a take-charge, hands-on approach to the coronavirus and every other problem he faces. He’ll work with Democrats on a legislative package to help working families. He’ll do for our emergency response system what he’s done for our economy, make it stronger and better, day by day.”

Fox’s terrible early coverage of coronavirus appears to have had a significant impact on its viewers, who polls show are much less likely to take the virus seriously than are people who get their news from more credible sources. But the Trump administration is still happy with the network’s spin, because they share the same top priority: Preserving the president’s political standing.

*This article has been updated with additional information. Data from Media Matters database for weekday cable news programs airing between 6 a.m. and midnight.

Trump’s Fox Feedback Imperils Americans In Pandemic

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

More Americans are going to die from the novel coronavirus COVID-19 because President Donald Trump is watching Fox News and listening when the network's hosts minimize the risks posed by the deadly epidemic. I can't put it any more plainly than that.

Since 2017, I've reported on how Trump's obsessive watching of Fox turns into hyperaggressive tweets and government policy. This Fox-Trump feedback loop has dictated presidential pardons, federal contracts, and even a partial government shutdown.

It is dangerous to have a highly suggestible president who prefers to listen to a cable network's propagandists rather than experts. The result is a broken policy process where officials are forced to fight the president's television for his attention — even trying to reach him directly by appearing on his favorite shows.

Since I began studying the Fox-Trump feedback loop, I have worried the most about two scenarios where the president's Fox obsession could prove uniquely disastrous: the prospect of a military confrontation with a nuclear power and a global pandemic. As of yet, we've avoided the first. The second is here.

The coronavirus has infected more than 100,000 people in at least 97 countries, with a death toll now approaching 4,000. In the United States, at least 34 states and the District of Columbia have confirmed cases for a total of more than 500 infected people — surely an undercount because there's a lack of available test kits. Thousands are being asked to self-quarantine in the hope of minimizing community spread and preventing a drastic shortfall in hospital beds.

The U.S. was not prepared to respond to the coronavirus — in no small part because Trump had hamstrung the nation's pandemic response capabilities. The Washington Post detailed Saturday the "many preventable missteps and blunders in the federal government's handling of the coronavirus crisis — the embodiment of an administration that, for weeks, repeatedly squandered opportunities to manage and prepare for a global epidemic." The problems started from the top: Trump "has undermined his administration's own efforts to fight the coronavirus outbreak — resisting attempts to plan for worst-case scenarios, overturning a public-health plan upon request from political allies and repeating only the warnings that he chose to hear," Politico reported the same day.

Trump's lax response to the spread of the coronavirus mimics the reaction of his favorite network — and that's no coincidence. The president is shunning aides who provide him with negative information about the epidemic and basking in Fox's glowing coverage. On Friday afternoon, amid a rambling and incoherent press event at the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Trump downplayed the threat posed by the disease, praised his administration's response, lashed out at Democrats, and told reporters that he was getting information about the spread of the coronavirus from Fox.

"As of the time I left the plane with you, we had 240 cases — that's at least what was on a very fine network known as Fox News," he said. "I know you love it. But that's what I happened to be watching." This was not an anomaly. As coronavirus spread in February 2020, Trump sent more than twice as many live-tweets of Fox's coverage as he did in February 2019. On Friday morning alone, he sent three tweets about coronavirus in response to Fox.

What was Trump learning from his regular Fox-watching? Roughly an hour before his comments, a Fox medical correspondent argued on-air that coronavirus was no more dangerous than the flu; a few hours later, the same correspondent argued that coronavirus fears were being deliberately overblown in hopes of damaging Trump politically. The network's personalities have frequently claimed that the Trump administration has been doing a great job responding to coronavirus, that the fears of the disease are overblown, and that the real problem is Democrats and the media politicizing the epidemic to prevent Trump's reelection. The president absorbs those narratives and parrots them to the public in tweets and statements; the network responds by continuing to push those talking points.

No one wants a public panic. But by downplaying the risks of coronavirus in order to rally to Trump's defense, Fox is endangering its audience, which skews older and is most susceptible to the disease. It seems to be having an effect — both anecdotally and based on polling: Republicans are less likely to view the disease as a serious threat.

But the greater danger is that one of Fox's older Republican viewers is the president of the United States. And when the network tells him that coronavirus is nothing to worry about, he listens.

As a result, a significant number of Americans are likely to die — prematurely and unnecessarily — because Trump is taking advice from Fox News. We are courting disaster, thanks to the Trump-Fox feedback loop.

Does Anyone Miss Chris Matthews?

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

MSNBC anchor Brian Williams apparently felt Chris Matthews' absence during the network's coverage of the Super Tuesday Democratic primaries.

"We are missing our mutual friend," Williams said of the longtime Hardball host, who had announced his departure from the network the previous evening.

But for viewers tuning in to MSNBC, much was the same as on previous election nights: Williams and Rachel Maddow anchored the coverage, throwing to correspondents in the field and commentators on the set for their takes on election results, while Steve Kornacki broke down incoming vote and projected delegate totals on his screen.

Maybe you enjoy that sort of thing, maybe you don't, but it's hard to argue that what it was missing was a septuagenarian invoking Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders amid a rant about how he would have been executed in Central Park if the communists had won the Cold War.

Matthews, who has helped set MSNBC's tone and direction for decades, wasn't really bringing much to the table. He "didn't listen, didn't do his homework and treated politics as a game in which noisy confrontation was a necessity," as The Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan noted in a typically astute column.

His brand was conflict and the political horse race, and the shoutfests he oversaw became, for a time, the staple of cable news programming. But his particular version of that generally mediocre content was notably hollow, powered by stale and surface-level insights he gleaned from a career in politics now three decades past.

None of this is to underplay the toxic mix of relentlessly misogynistic commentary and casually sexist comments to women who went on his show that led to his departure. MSNBC seems to have shown him the door in light of his confrontation last week with Sen. Elizabeth Warren over her criticism of Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg for reported gender-based discrimination at his company, together with GQ columnist Laura Bassett's essay about Matthews inappropriately flirting with her in MSNBC's makeup room.

These controversies were the latest examples of Matthews' long history of such behavior. He frequently commented on the physical appearances of female politicians and journalists, and regularly objectified women who came on his show. This spurred situations that were uncomfortable for the viewer and must have been unbearable for the recipients of his comments. This rampant misogyny constantly spilled over into Matthews' political coverage, particularly his treatment of Hillary Clinton. Hardball viewers learned that Clinton was a "witchy" and "fickle" "she devil" and "strip-teaser" whose laugh was a "cackle" and whose voice sounded like "fingernails on a blackboard." He termed her male supporters "castratos in the eunuch chorus."

But as Sullivan pointed out, Matthews was a particularly lazy exemplar of a type of commentator whose value to viewers is already marginal. He was more concerned with who was up and who was down than what they had to offer the country. And he shot from the hip, convinced that his gut reactions were evidence of broad trends.

And so President George W. Bush, circa 2003, was an "effective commander" who "won the war" ("Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics," he claimed). Bush "glimmers" with "sunny nobility," and "everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack jobs," Matthew added a couple years later.

Matthews' 2008 commentary is largely remembered for his sexist Clinton remarks and his claim that he got a "thrill up my leg" from Barack Obama. But he was hardly in the tank for the then-Illinois senator — as Jamison Foser noted for Media Matters at the time, he was constantly arguing that Obama couldn't relate to "regular people," by which he meant "white people." Matthews ridiculed Obama for ordering orange juice in a diner, claimed that his lack of bowling prowess "tells you something about the Democratic Party," said he was out of touch for playing pool, and complained that he wasn't "beefy" enough. By contrast, Matthews repeatedly said that the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), "deserves to be president."

In 2016, the Hardball host boiled the choice voters faced down to this: If "you want to keep all this the way it is, vote for Hillary Clinton," but voting for Donald Trump would "shake the system to its roots."

And his commentary this cycle has been marred by a string of bizarre and offensive remarks. Beyond the aforementioned Warren confrontation and his weird comments about Sanders and alternate universe Cold War executions, Matthews compared the rise of Sanders, who is Jewish, to the Nazis conquering France (he later apologized) and mixed up Jaime Harrison, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in South Carolina, with Republican Sen. Tim Scott (both Scott and Harrison are Black).

MSNBC and its viewers will be able to move on without Matthews. They've done something similar in the recent past. As the network's senior political analyst, Mark Halperin helped drive the conversation during the 2012 and 2016 elections. Like Matthews, Halperin fixated on horse-race minutiae and the tactical acumen of candidates rather than their positions or policies. He was known for his mathematically incoherent candidate performance scorecards and his books, which literally described elections as a game. Halperin was considered indispensable to MSNBC — right up to the minute he was fired after women came forward to detail his history of sexual harassment and assault.

Few people look at the coverage of the 2020 election and say, "I wish we had Mark Halperin's take." In a couple of months, the same will be true of Matthews.

Fox News Was Right About Authoritarian Bill Barr

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

If you listened to some leading members of the U.S. legal establishment after President Donald Trump appointed William Barr attorney general, you might have expected him to serve as an institutionalist who would maintain the Justice Department’s hallowed independence. You would have been better off paying attention to Fox News’ pro-Trump propagandists. They had Barr pegged from the first as a yes man who would systematically dismantle the rule of law in order to benefit the president.

A year into Barr’s tenure, there is no question that Barr and Trump are corrupting the legal system. In the latest example, the DOJ’s leadership on Tuesday intervened to reduce the tough sentencing recommendation prosecutors had sought for Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser. This blatant political interference led to all four prosecutors withdrawing from the case in apparent protest. It triggered alarms from former Justice Department officials and current prosecutors. But the move drew praise from the president, who had publicly railed against the initial recommendation and now credits Barr with its revocation. And hours later, NBC News reported that the sequence was part of a broader pattern in which Barr consolidated control of “legal matters of personal interest” to Trump. 

None of this is subtle.

Fox’s Trumpists, meanwhile, have responded with glee to the prospect that the Justice Department has become a tool of presidential retribution. They are ginning up attacks on the prosecutors who conducted the case and urging Trump to pardon his former consigliere. And they are openly rejecting the notion that Barr should be ensuring the independence of his department.

Fox’s propagandists had a better handle on how Barr would act as attorney general because they understood — and agreed with — Trump’s authoritarian view of the Justice Department. They view the Trump-era DOJ as a shield for the president and his allies — and a weapon against his foes. When Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, failed to live up to this vision, Trump’s Fox cabinet successfully pushed the president to fire him. The network’s commentators subsequently backed Barr because they had reason to believe he would be more compliant — and they have been proved correct.

When Barr took office in February, Trump was imperiled by the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller’s probe of Russian interference had resulted in indictments, plea deals, or convictions for his political fixer, Stone; his longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen; his first White House national security adviser, Michael Flynn; and his 2016 campaign chair, Paul Manafort, among others. Trump himself had staggering legal exposure because of the evidence Mueller’s team had amassed of the president’s efforts to obstruct Mueller’s inquiry. 

But Barr’s brand is cover-up, and he quickly moved to protect a president who had put him in place for that precise reason. CNN broke the news just days after his confirmation that he was preparing to announce the Mueller probe’s conclusion. Over the following weeks, Barr personally cleared Trump of obstruction, then dishonestly spun Mueller’s findings in an effort to deaden the impact of the special counsel’s final report. 

What followed was a bureaucratic shuffle that led to the Justice Department’s leniency for members of Trump’s circle. The special counsel’s investigation had special protections designed to shield it from political influence, and its dissolution made it easy for Barr to seize personal control of the cases Mueller’s team had initiated. Jessie Liu, the U.S. attorney who had been overseeing the cases against Stone and Flynn, was replaced by Barr’s handpicked choice last month (and resigned today). The same day Liu lost her DOJ post, senior DOJ officials reportedly intervened to reduce the sentencing recommendation in Flynn’s case. The reduction for Stone would follow in turn.

Barr also shielded Trump on Ukraine: Even though Trump had asked Ukraine’s president to work with Barr on his scheme to investigate Trump’s political opponent, Barr did not recuse himself from the matter. And his department both intervened to prevent a whistleblower report on the scandal from reaching Congress and cleared the president of related campaign finance violations. After the president’s actions triggered his impeachment and acquittal by the Senate, he created a back channel Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani could use to send his Ukraine disinformation directly to the DOJ.

Barr has also launched a legal counterattack aimed at the current and former federal officials Trump blames for generating the Mueller probe. In October, the DOJ opened a criminal investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation, and Barr has been closely overseeing the probe. Its reported contours appear to overlap with a sprawling conspiracy theory concocted by Fox News host Sean Hannity and his circle which posits that the Russia investigation was ginned up by anti-Trump “deep state actors” to prevent his election in 2016.

None of this makes any sense, but Barr appears to have bought into it. He has been personally traveling the globe to push foreign intelligence officials to aid the inquiry, and he received unprecedented authority from Trump to unilaterally declassify its fruits. Meanwhile, his handpicked replacement for Liu is overseeing politically charged investigations into former FBI Director James Comey and his former deputy Andrew McCabe, both frequent targets of Trump and his Fox allies. 

Fox’s pro-Trump commentators have cheered Barr’s every effort. They view him as the “new sheriff in town” and “the perfect man at this great inflection point.” They feel that way because he is protecting the president while turning their conspiracy theories about his foes into federal criminal investigations.

The attorney general’s decisions are barely distinguishable from the whims of a Fox host. And that means things can still get much worse. Trump’s Fox talking heads want pardons for Flynn, Stone, and other criminal members of Trump’s cabal. They are eager for a “cleansing” of federal law enforcement agencies, with anti-Trump figures “taken out in handcuffs” for their role in trying to investigate the president and his circle. They want criminal investigations into the purported crimes of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and they will surely add the next Democratic presidential nominee to that list as soon as that person is determined.

And they are all sure that William Barr is just the man to make their dreams come true. They have been right about Barr all along — there’s little reason to doubt their hopes will be vindicated.