Reprinted with permission from Alternet
Republicans and the right-wing media cannot be allowed to live down the bad, dangerous, horribly wrong information they promoted on coronavirus for weeks
President Donald Trump and many of his sycophants — including those at Fox News — have dramatically changed their tone when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic. After weeks of claiming that the mainstream media were exaggerating the dangers of coronavirus, Trump has adopted a somber tone and now acknowledges how deadly it is. But the fact remains that for far too long, many Trumpistas and Republicans claimed that coronavirus wasn’t nearly as dangerous as liberals, progressives, Democrats, centrists, Never Trump conservatives and the mainstream media were making it out to be. And those Trumpistas and Republicans — by encouraging complacency in the face of a deadly pandemic — now have blood on their hands.
Previously, Trump claimed that coronavirus warnings from the mainstream media and Democrats were a “hoax.” But unsettling figures from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland say otherwise. As of early Friday morning, March 20, the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus has killed 10,038 people worldwide — including 3405 in Italy alone. Italy, in fact, has now passed Mainland China in the COVID-19 death count. Other countries being ravaged by coronavirus range from Iran (with 1284 deaths) to Spain (833 deaths). But those numbers are likely to increase substantially in the weeks ahead.
President Trump and his sycophants have repeatedly described the mainstream press as “the enemy of the people.” But back in January and February, the media outlets that Trump hates — from CNN and MSNBC to the New York Times and the Washington Post — did an excellent job warning Americans that a colossal storm was brewing all over the world. They were right, but Trump and his sycophants blindly ignored the evidence that was staring them in the face.
A video that journalist Alastair Campbell posted on Twitter on March 19 illustrates Trump’s change in tone on coronavirus. Titled “Weeks of Downplaying,” the video depicts the pages of a 2020 calendar and shows what Trump was saying about the pandemic in January and February compared to mid-March.
The Trump of January 22 is seen in the video saying of coronavirus, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China.” And on January 30, Trump reiterates, “We think we have it very well under control.”
The video moves on to February 2, when Trump is seen claiming, “We pretty much shut it down, coming in from China.” And on February 10 and February 14, Trump is seen predicting that the arrival of warmer weather would cause coronavirus to slow down. The Trump of February 26 is seen insisting that coronavirus would “be down to close to zero” in “a couple of days” — and the following day, on February 27, Trump is seen predicting that “like a miracle,” coronavirus “will disappear.” Moreover, the Trump of February 28 is seen describing coronavirus as a “new hoax” of his political rivals.
As the video demonstrates, the Trump of January and February was much more interested in sticking it to Democrats, liberals, progressives, Never Trump conservatives, the mainstream media and everyone else he hates than he was in helping Americans prepare for the deadly storm that was going from bad to worse in other countries. And he did it with the help of his army of sycophants at Fox News.
In a video titled “How Fox’s Coronavirus Rhetoric Has Shifted,” the Washington Post — another source of quality reporting that Trump considers “the enemy of the people” — vividly illustrates the dramatic change in Fox News and Fox Business’ coronavirus coverage. The video contrasts the things that Fox wingnuts like Trish Regan, Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity were saying earlier this year compared to now.
For example, the video compares Pirro on March 7 to Pirro on March 14. On March 7, Pirro is seen claiming, “All the talk about coronavirus being so much more deadly doesn’t reflect reality. Without a vaccine, the flu would be far more deadly.” But on March 14, Pirro is seen warning, “We are facing an incredibly contagious and dangerous virus that is moving across the world from one hotspot to another.”
Even when coronavirus was killing people left and right on March 7, Pirro was irresponsibly downplaying its severity. To the Pirro of March 7, COVID-19 was not a health threat to the lives of Americans; it was a political threat to Dear Leader.
In the Washington Post’s video, Regan on March 9 is compared to Regan on March 13. The Regan of March 9 ignorantly claims that those who were warning about the dangers of coronavirus “care very little for any of the destruction they were leaving in their wake”; the Regan of March 13, however, is seen warning that it is important to “test for the virus in order to stop the spread of it.” Moreover, Regan warns of “what could be a very great recession” because of coronavirus and even a “depression.”
Hannity is one of the worst offenders in the Post’s video. On March 9, Hannity is seen slamming Democrats for “using this virus as a political weapon against the president” and insisting that “the standard flu” is worse than coronavirus. But on March 16, Hannity is seen warning, “We must slow the spread of coronavirus” — which is something that credible media outlets like CNN, MSNBC and the Washington Post were saying two months earlier.
But Hannity’s change in tone is too little too late. By telling Fox News viewers all those weeks that coronavirus wasn’t as dangerous as Trump’s critics were making it out to be, Hannity encouraged careless behavior.
A separate video, posted by HuffPost on March 18, shows how badly other buffoons at Fox News — including Jesse Watters — downplayed the severity of coronavirus. Watters, in early March, is seen telling Juan Williams, “You want to know how I really feel about the coronavirus, Juan? If I get it, I’ll beat it. I’m not lying. It’s called the power of positive thinking. And I think America needs to wake up to that.”
Yes, Watters seriously claimed that “positive thinking” alone could defeat a deadly pandemic that has killed more than 10,000 people worldwide. Watters should be permanently shamed for his reckless and idiotic assertion, but millions of Fox News viewers — many of them older Americans who are especially vulnerable to coronavirus — take his idiocy seriously.
Certainly, not all right-wing media figures downplayed the severity of coronavirus. The Bulwark, founded by Never Trump conservatives Charlie Sykes and Bill Kristol, has done quality reporting on the pandemic. So have Joe Scarborough and Nicolle Wallace at MSNBC, S.E. Cupp at CNN and Washington Post columnists Max Boot and Jennifer Rubin. All of them are right-of-center conservatives who can give themselves a pat on the back for their reporting on coronavirus.
But the fact remains that countless far-right media figures did spend weeks and weeks downplaying the severity of coronavirus. One of the most blatantly irresponsible is radio host Rush Limbaugh, who compared COVID-19 to “the common cold” more than once. As recently as March 11, Media Matters reported, Limbaugh was insisting, “This coronavirus, they’re just — all of this panic is just not warranted. This, I’m telling you…. this virus is the common cold.”
In New Jersey, seven members of the same family (the Fusco family) have been infected with coronavirus; four have died, and three others have been hospitalized. The Fusco family’s nightmare shows how rapidly COVID-19 can spread and how deadly it can be; COVID-19 is proving to be the most deadly pandemic since the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918. And yet, Limbaugh has irresponsibly and stupidly equated it with “the common cold.”
From the Trump Administration to Fox News and Fox Business to Limbaugh, so many Republicans and Trumpistas promoted a deadly message that Americans didn’t need to be afraid of coronavirus. And the fact that they were so reckless and irresponsible in the face of the worst pandemic in over 100 years is something they must not be able to live down. They need to be shamed for it over and over. And Democrats, if they are smart, will use that irresponsibility against the Trumpian GOP and the right-wing media this election year — and remind them of the damage they have inflicted on the United States. Forgiveness is not an option.
As the COVID-19 death toll increases, the truth is painfully clear: Republicans and Trump supporters have blood on their hands.