Take 65 seconds to watch the president’s own top science advisor last night on CNN declare that people, especially seniors, shouldn’t be flying except for reasons of absolute necessity.
— Dale Chu (@Dale_Chu) March 13, 2020
Visit the CDC’s webpage devoted to “People at Risk for Serious Illness from COVID-19” and you’ll find six bullet points right at the top, the fifth of which is “Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.” Now take 30 seconds and watch Ainsley Earhardt, an anchor on the president’s favorite show on his favorite network, advise its famously old viewership that flying has never been more awesome.
Ainsley Earhardt: "It's actually the safest time to fly. Everyone I know that's flying right now, terminals are pretty much dead." (It is not the safest time to fly.) pic.twitter.com/a3BnajAbj5
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) March 13, 2020
She’s not the only Fox anchor encouraging people to buy tickets:
Great time to fly if not in at-risk population! This is @united to ORD—new plane, wonderful flight attendants, passengers wiping down everything. (Some of us always did this when traveling!) #USA pic.twitter.com/7ev5leV7Bz
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) March 13, 2020
If you’re not in the at-risk population, flying’s unlikely to kill you. But it can certainly pass the virus along to you, and you’ll then pass it along to someone who is in the at-risk population. The more people opt out of “social distancing,” the more intense the epidemic will be. Laura Ingraham, Dartmouth grad, surely understands that.
What is Fox doing?
They’ve had some worthwhile coverage of coronavirus this week. Tucker Carlson warned viewers a few days ago not to kid themselves that the disease is just some flu that’ll go away. Anthony Fauci was a guest on Sean Hannity’s show to reiterate that point. Martha MacCallum ably grilled Seema Verma last night about the coming shortage of ICU beds and ventilators. Contributors have been beating the drum about ramping up testing. I don’t get to watch it much during the day but I’m sure Chris Wallace and the news side are doing a fine job of delivering the facts, and will now have the chance to do so overnight as live programming continues into the wee hours. Fox management is taking it seriously too:
The top executives at Fox News Channel told employees Thursday to cut back on studio bookings and to expect possible programming changes as a result of precautions being taken against the spread of coronavirus, the latest media outlet to unveil new procedures as the disease complicates the logistics of newsgathering.
Executives want to “limit personal interaction, reduce the chance of exposure wherever possible and maintain the health and safety of those employees who are unable to telecommute,” Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and Fox News President Jay Wallace told employees in a memo Thursday. And they suggested they may have to tweak the way content is presented. “Programming changes will be enacted in the coming days on some of our platforms — our programming leadership team is working on this now and will communicate that accordingly,” the executives said in the memo…
The Fox News executives urged employees in the memo to “keep in mind that viewers rely on us to stay informed during a crisis of this magnitude and we are providing an important public service to our audience by functioning as a resource for all Americans.”
They have provided a public service this week in some ways, as I just said. But telling old people that it’s never been safer to fly when in reality it’s never been less safe for them to fly isn’t providing a public service. Whatever the hell this is, it isn’t a public service:
On Fox & Friends, Jerry Falwell Jr claims people are "overreacting" to coronavirus, the national response is "their next attempt to get Trump," and the virus itself is a North Korean bioweapon. pic.twitter.com/2JPuNBW7C3
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) March 13, 2020
Coronavirus is a Chinese-North Korean bioweapon aimed at the United States — that was unleashed on China first, for some reason? And we shouldn’t “overreact” to this … bioweapon attack?
It would be unconscionable but cynically understandable to air this sort of thing if Trump were still in “it’ll blow over” mode. If the task is to provide cover for the president at all costs, up to and including encouraging reckless behavior that’ll get people killed, then happy talk about air travel and not “overreacting” to a disease that’s about to swamp American emergency rooms would have a certain cynical logic. But Trump is declaring a national emergency as I write this. He’s past “it’ll blow over” mode. He understands now that this is a mortal threat to Americans and to his chances of a second term. The time for business as usual and “don’t overreact” is over for him and for righty media. I … think?
After urging from President Trump, Dana White says he'll keep holding UFC events despite the coronavirus.pic.twitter.com/is1bw1nRTl
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) March 13, 2020
There are polls going around this week showing that Republicans are much more likely to say the threat from coronavirus is exaggerated, for complicated reasons. Partly, I think, it’s geographic. The country’s biggest hot spots for the virus thus far are Seattle, New York, and L.A., all deeply Democratic areas. Dems are living with a more immediate threat than Republicans are for the moment. Partly too there’s a “boy who cried wolf” effect in media coverage. Republicans have spent the past three years listening to how Russiagate and then the Ukraine matter were going to end Trump’s presidency. Now they’re hearing it about COVID-19 and tuning it out. And partly it’s partisan wishcasting. Righties know that if the media *is* right in this case about the extent of the epidemic, Trump’s odds at a second term will dwindle.
But partly it’s a reaction to the denialism in some of the rhetoric in righty media and from the president himself. Trump spent six weeks insisting that this is no big deal. As you’ve just seen in the clips up top, some Foxies continue to insist that it’s fine to carry on as normal against the advice of the CDC. Take an audience that’s predisposed to do that in the first place and reinforce their skepticism of the threat with scoffing comments from political and media authority figures they trust and of course they’re going to conclude that this is overblown. With the possible exception of conservative talk radio, there’s no media outlet capable of doing more good — or harm — in shaping Republican opinion than Fox. Which makes it that much more important that all of Fox’s messaging on coronavirus encourages good practices to contain the outbreak.
At the end of the day, they’re saving the lives of their own viewership.
There may be another reason why Republicans are more skeptical of the threat. Republicans skew older, and for whatever grim reason, older people generally seem to be fairly sanguine about the threat.
At her home in The Villages, a sprawling central Florida retirement community that overlaps three counties, Alicia Przybylowicz still greets neighbors with a big smile and an outstretched hand. “I’m a hand-shaker. I think I will always be a hand-shaker and a hugger,” the 64-year-old said. Worries about the coronavirus aren’t going to stop that. “It seems that it’s been blown out of proportion.”…
The Villages is one of the largest retirement developments in the United States, with 125,000 residents living on more than 15,000 acres. When asked on the “Villages Friendly Folks” Facebook page how they were managing the coronavirus, a majority of people sided with Przybylowicz, saying the crisis is being overblown.
Against mounting advice from federal and private health experts, many expressed a determination to move forward with travel excursions, such as cruises.
We could spitball theories why older people, the group most at risk from the virus, seem to be taking it more in stride. They’ve already lived through many hardships; nothing fazes them. They’ve also lived through many scares that haven’t panned out. They’re complacent. But I’d bet there’s a Trump/Fox component that’s feeding their organic skepticism. It would be good to disabuse them of it at some point before we have news crews filming senior citizens sick with the virus collapsing in hospital parking lots because there’s no room inside. Which is less than a month away.
Here’s our Treasury secretary echoing the imbecilic talking point that commercial air travel seems like a perfectly chill thing to do right now. Fun fact: A man has been banned from flying Jet Blue in the future because he boarded his last flight with the company knowing he had coronavirus. Enjoy the friendly skies.
Sec. Steven Mnuchin: "If I weren't so busy working, I would be going home to Los Angeles and I would be perfectly comfortable getting on a commercial plane." pic.twitter.com/UFcJEFm6yO
— The Hill (@thehill) March 13, 2020