The Second Most Dangerous Virus in the Country

On March 9, Fox pundit Sean Hannity said, “…if you are over the mass hysteria, if you’re over politicizing and weaponizing the coronavirus, you are not alone…. I’m sure in the end, the mob and the media — well, they will be advancing their new conspiracy theory and their newest hoax.”

Armed with no evidence except his own opinion, Hannity described reports of a worldwide epidemic that has not been seen in 100 years as a “Hoax.”

“Look,” Hannity told his viewers, “it is time, in all seriousness, for simple, fundamental truths to protect our fellow Americans. That means Democrats. That means Republicans, liberals, conservatives and libertarians and everybody in between. Viruses do not have a political identity.”

Who could argue with that, especially when he uses the words, “seriousness” and “fundamental truths”?

Hannity then goes for the death blow.

“…we start with the media mob’s ongoing effort to now use a virus, an infectious disease, as a political weapon, all to bludgeon President Trump yet again.”

Clearly, he’s manipulating his audience into believing that Trump is not only serious, but stands for “fundamental truths,” and that “the media mob” is bullying Trump. The perception: Trump is doing the right things for the American people, and the media is pushing false information.

“Coronavirus is a serious disease,” he continues. “Now, should you and your family be concerned? Of course. You should be concerned about the flu. You should be concerned about a cold. You should be concerned about any health risk.”

Now, he’s likening the coronavirus to the flu or a cold, but skillfully takes himself off the hook by adding, “You should be concerned about any health risk.” What do his supporters hear? “It can’t be that bad because it’s only like the flu or a cold.”

It should be noted that in later months, Hannity flipped from his previous statements about the virus.

Nonetheless, this is manipulation and misinformation at its finest and Hannity has become a master at it.

Instead of the limited reach of fringe sites like “InfoWars” pushing deception and false conspiracy theories, we have a well-funded, wide-reaching and highly-rated cable channel pushing misinformation calculated to propagate political division.

Three studies now show the effects of all this deception.

“ ‘We are receiving an incredible number of studies and solid data showing that consuming far-right media and social media content was strongly associated with low concern about the virus at the onset of the pandemic,’ said Irene Pasquetto, chief editor of the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, which published one of the studies,” The Washington Post reports (June 25).

“In April, Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and Dolores Albarracin of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign published a peer-reviewed study examining how Americans’ media diets affected their beliefs about the coronavirus.

“Administering a nationally representative phone survey with 1,008 respondents, they found that people who got most of their information from mainstream print and broadcast outlets tended to have an accurate assessment of the severity of the pandemic and their risks of infection. But those who relied on conservative sources, such as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories or unfounded rumors, such as the belief that taking vitamin C could prevent infection, that the Chinese government had created the virus, and that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exaggerated the pandemic’s threat ‘to damage the Trump presidency.’ ”

In the Trump-misinformation era, everything has devolved into an Us v. Them battle where the country chooses sides: wearing masks and social-distancing, v. anti-maskers who believe it is not only an unnecessary extreme, but interferes with their right to freedom of association.

“Can government legally force you to wear a mask?” the Poynter Institute asks.

The short answer is “Yes!” The government bans smoking in public places because it puts others at risk. Restaurants are legally permitted to post signs that read: “no shirts, no shoes, no service.” Many now add: “no mask.”

As reported by NPR (May 4), “Researchers at the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at University of Chicago took a deep dive into those implications in the working paper “Misinformation During a Pandemic,” in which they examined the audience that watched Hannity versus Tucker Carlson Tonight.

“The economists examined scripts from shows and studied how differential exposure to the two shows affected behavior and health outcomes. Conservative hosts Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson support President Donald Trump, and they are at the helm of the two, most-widely viewed cable news shows in the U.S. But they took different broadcasting paths when the coronavirus first hit the U.S.

“The paper notes that Carlson was an outlier on Fox and, as early as Jan. 28, spent a chunk of his show discussing the dangers of a global pandemic. He continued to warn of deadly consequences.

“ ‘Currently, the coronavirus appears to kill about 2% of the people who have it,’ Carlson reported. ‘So let’s be generous for a moment and imagine that asymptomatic carriers are not detected, and the real death rate is only say half a percent — that would be one quarter of the current estimates. Even under that scenario, there would still be 27 million deaths from coronavirus globally. In this country, more than a million would die,’ Carlson said.

“Meanwhile, Hannity downplayed coronavirus as just the flu and emphasized that Democrats were politicizing the virus to undermine Trump.

“ ‘And today, thankfully, zero people in the United States of America have died from the coronavirus. Zero. Now, let’s put this in perspective. In 2017, 61,000 people in this country died from influenza, the flu. Common flu. Around 100 people die every single day from car wrecks,’ the paper quotes Hannity from his show on Feb. 27….

“The paper says viewership of Hannity relative to Carlson is associated with approximately 30% more COVID-19 cases by March 14, and 21% more COVID-19 deaths by March 28.

“The paper,” researchers note, “says it is possible that these effects will fade over time. And it acknowledges that the findings cannot yet speak to long-term effects. However, it shows how misinformation in the early stages of a pandemic can have important consequences for how a disease ultimately affects the population.”

We are not talking about political differences. We are talking about the health and welfare of more than 300 million Americans, and a man with one of largest bullhorns in media misrepresenting the facts.

Responsibility, Accountability, Truth? In the Hannity echo chamber it’s all political calculation.

Nonetheless, when it comes to a deadly virus that has infected more than 2.5 million and more than 125,000 deaths in the U.S. politics is the last thing we should be thinking about. As Dr. Anthony Fauci – an immunologist who has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 – reminds us, “science is truth.”

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