As the coronavirus crisis rages on, Fox News is contributing almost as much to the deaths and disease as is Trump’s White House.
Trump spouts a shocking amount of misinformation during his daily press briefings, but it’s Fox News’ equally misleading coverage of the crisis that closes the lethal circuit of lies.
It’s easy to feel outraged and defeated by Fox News. (“I can’t believe they’re saying that! How are they getting away with this?”) But it’s important to understand its formula for misleading Americans, particularly in the crisis we’re in.
The formula goes like this:
First, deny there’s a problem. Lay the groundwork for later conspiracy theories by calling it “a hoax.” Blame political opponents for “using” the issue to make Trump look bad. Mock anyone taking it seriously, and downplay the consequences.
Then, when deaths mount and the coronavirus can no longer be denied, promote the same dangerous miracle cures Trump promotes.
Third, attack the experts. Question what public-health experts recommend, such as social distancing. Question whether the death toll from Covid-19 is even true, and broadcast misleading graphics. Attack the experts themselves, and parade around alternative “experts” to promote an array of conspiracy theories.
Fourth, deflect attention from Trump’s botched response by blaming others. Blame China! As the virus hits black and brown communities especially hard, trot out the white supremacists.
If nothing else works, revise history.
Finally, make reopening the economy about “freedom,” and attack Democratic governors who are trying to keep people safe.
That’s Fox News’s tried-and-true formula, folks: Deny, promote quack remedies, attack the experts, blame others, and change the subject to “freedom.”
It works for Fox. It keeps Fox viewers. It helps protect Trump.
But it is making a deadly calamity even more deadly.
Polls show that a majority of Republicans think it’s perfectly safe to go to establishments like nail salons and dine-in restaurants, and a new study found that Sean Hannity’s viewers were less likely to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Meanwhile, a conspiracy theory peddled by Tucker Carlson made it all the way to the White House, where it fell on Trump’s receptive ears and led him to yank a multimillion-dollar grant to an organization on the frontlines of coronavirus research.
In theory, the FCC prohibits broadcasting false information about a catastrophe if the broadcaster knows the information is false and will cause substantial “public harm” if aired. But Trump’s FCC won’t do a thing, and Fox News has no broadcast ethics. It has no journalistic integrity.
If this formula of deceit shows us anything, it’s that they know what they’re doing, and they don’t care who they hurt.
So, what can you do?
First, make a ruckus. Speak out. Write letters to your local paper, and local Fox News outlets. That’s precisely what forced Fox to cut ties with Trish Regan, and with 5G Conspiracy peddlers Diamond and Silk.
Second, boycott Fox’s major advertisers. That helped get Bill O’Reilly off the air.
Third: leverage your power. Correct Fox’s lies when you see them. Share this video with Fox News viewers you care about.
You might just save a life.
This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.
Robert B. Reich is the chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley and former secretary of labor under the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His film, Inequality for All, was released in 2013. Follow him on Twitter: @RBReich.