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Fox News is downplaying the coronavirus even though its older audience is more vulnerable to the virus

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Fox News is downplaying the coronavirus even though its older audience is more vulnerable to the virus
Fox News is downplaying the coronavirus even though its older audience is more vulnerable to the virus

Fox's message is particularly dangerous for its viewers, who skew older and are thus more vulnerable to the effects of the virus.

  • Several prominent right-wing media personalities are downplaying the threat posed by the Wuhan coronavirus and accusing Democrats of exaggerating the crisis to score political points. 
  • Fox News opinion hosts' comments echo the president, who has accused Democrats and the media of intentionally inciting fear about the virus to "panick" the stock market and undermine him. 
  • But Fox's message is particularly dangerous for its viewers, who skew older and are thus more vulnerable to the effects of the virus, which US health officials say is poised to spread across the US. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Some of President Donald Trump's most vocal supporters in right-wing media are downplaying the threat posed by the Wuhan coronavirus and accusing Democrats of overstating the crisis to score political points. 

Sean Hannity, whose prime-time program is the most watched on Fox News, on Thursday argued that the virus sweeping the globe hasn't yet killed any Americans, and compared it to the seasonal flu, which took 61,000 lives in the US in 2017-2018. (The reported death rate from the novel virus in China is much higher than that of the flu). 

Hannity added that Democrats want the virus to spread in order to "wreak havoc" and undermine President Donald Trump. 

"Many on the left are all but rooting for coronavirus to wreak havoc in the United States," Hannity told his more than 3 million viewers on Thursday night. "It's clear, the left's psychosis, their rage, is now reaching new depths of depravity ... These people are not well. Let's be honest here, they don't have good intentions." 

Fellow Fox News host Laura Ingraham echoed that argument, focusing her prime time shows this week on attacking Democrats and the media over their response to the virus. 

"Democrats and their media cronies have decided to weaponize fear and also weaponize suffering to improve their chances against Trump in November," Ingraham announced on Wednesday. 

Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, went on Fox & Friends, the network's daily morning show, on Friday to argue that Democrats "seemingly hope that [the coronavirus] comes here and kills millions of people so that they can end Donald Trump's streak of winning."

Fox's opinion programming concerning the coronavirus is often at odds with its daytime news coverage, which has delivered straight news reporting on the virus. 

Democrats have sharply condemned Trump's response to the virus, calling his request for $2.5 billion in funding inadequate and "anemic," and his administration's announcement that a potential virus may not be affordable for many Americans "absolutely disgusting." 

The Fox News hosts' comments echo the White House's talking points. 

Trump held a press briefing with government officials responsible for the coronavirus response on Wednesday night and downplayed the risk of the virus, insisting the US is "very, very ready for this, for anything."

The president accused Democrats and the media of intentionally "panicking" the stock market, tweeting on Wednesday, "Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) & @CNN are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible. Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape!"

Trump has also argued that the coronavirus is only as threatening as the seasonal flu. The president also misleadingly claimed that the coronavirus will go away in April as temperatures rise. 

mike pence donald trump
President Donald Trump with Vice President Mike Pence speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington after a meeting with Congressional leaders on border security as the government shutdown continues Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, in Washington. Associated Press/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Fox News' target audience is more vulnerable to the coronavirus

Fox News' message is getting through to the network's audience, some of whom gathered at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland this week. 

But Fox News' viewers are more vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus than the average American, as they skew older. The virus is significantly more deadly for those over 50 years old, and even more so for even older people, according to a study of Chinese coronavirus patients. The media age of Fox's audience was 65 in 2018.

Like many of the CPAC attendees interviewed by Insider on Thursday and Friday, Dianne Kozack, 69, and her daughter Lara, 26, believed Trump had the coronavirus response under control and that mainstream news organizations had blown the threat out of proportion. 

"I believe what Rush Limbaugh says, that it's under control," Dianne Kozack said. "I think President Trump's on top of it and, so far, there's nothing to panic about."

Limbaugh, the conservative talk-radio host, was criticized for telling listeners on Monday that "the coronavirus is the common cold."

Rene Campbell, 57, said she doesn't "watch the media anymore," with the exception of Fox News, and news she finds on Facebook.

"If you look at the big scheme of things, there's millions and millions of people in this world and I think right now in the United States there is one confirmed case," Campbell said.  At the time Campbell spoke with Insider, there had been 15 confirmed cases in the U.S. by the Centers for Disease Control. 

"Honestly, I'm not afraid of it," Campbell said. "I'm here, I don't have a mask on, I did buy masks because my son's freaking out. But I'm not. I don't see the need right now to panic." 

covid 19 death rate by age chart
Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

As Vice President Mike Pence, the administration's new point person on novel coronavirus, riled up the crowd in the Potomac Ballroom on Thursday, several CPAC attendees told Insider they weren't especially panicked about the coronavirus.

Some, like Melinda Kirlkand, a stay-at-home-mom from Michigan, "don't think that much about it."

"Personally it's a media driven panic that they want out there," said Lynn Straughan, who had come from Florida to attend CPAC. "If you actually see what's happening and listen to the mainstream media, MSNBC or CNN, they paint a dramatically different picture. One that is designed to put people into a certain type of panic." 

Straughan and her friends said they were protecting themselves as they normally would to combat the flu: washing their hands, wiping down airplane seats, and not touching their faces.

Others insisted they were not worried, but acknowledged that they were currently attending a bustling and tightly-packed conference where many attendees had passed through airports around the country to attend. 

An aspiring right-wing podcaster who gave his name as Grizzly Joe said he was "not worried about it", but still bought "some masks a couple weeks ago in case it does get a little crazy." 

"I'm not talking about the crappy paper masks, I'm talking about nice real masks, nice real respirators," he told Insider.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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