Studies released earlier this year suggested that “infection and mortality rates for COVID-19 are higher in areas where Fox News star Sean Hannity reaches the most viewers,” Fast Company reported in June.
The research came from the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, the National Bureau of Economic Research, and the University of Chicago, and other sources, and was discussed in The Washington Post.
Fast Company wrote:
If only the current surge of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. marked the beginning of a dreaded Second Wave. Instead, our inability to get the coronavirus under control in any meaningful way nationwide indicates we are still in the throes of the first wave.
It didn’t have to be this way, as several other countries around the world have proved. One of the reasons the coronavirus has spun out of control in the U.S., though, is misinformation in our media. As the Washington Post reports, one of the worst offenders in influencing Americans’ opinions and behavior around the virus is Fox News personality Sean Hannity.
The three studies referenced showed “how conservative media has polluted the informational waters of the coronavirus, amplifying false or misleading claims, promoting conspiracy theories, and discouraging preventative measures from viewers at key moments.”
In particular, the study by economists at the University of Chicago and other institutions centered on Hannity and showed “how the difference between his coverage of the virus and Tucker Carlson’s likely played a part in higher infection and mortality rates in areas where his show reaches the most viewers,” Fast Company reported.
According to the researchers, “Carlson warned viewers that the coronavirus might pose a serious threat from early February, while Hannity first ignored the topic on his show and then dismissed the risks associated with the virus, claiming that it was less concerning than the common flu and insisting that Democrats were using it as a political weapon to undermine the president.”
This study finds that not only are Fox News viewers less likely to comply with public health guidelines than those who rely on other news sources, but it singles out Hannity viewers as being demonstrably skeptical at a critical point. Through surveys, the study determined Hannity fans were more likely to have changed behaviors like handwashing and travel plans four days later than viewers of other Fox News programs.
The Washington Post reported Fox News’ response to the studies, which said: “as this timeline proves, Hannity has covered Covid-19 since the early days of the story. The ‘study’ almost completely ignores his coverage and repeated, specific warnings and concerns from January 27-February 26 including an early interview with Dr. Fauci in January. This is a reckless disregard for the truth.”
In response, the study’s lead author Leonardo Bursztyn noted that their analysis encompasses the entirety of Fox’s prime-time coverage through the end of March, including Hannity’s interview with Fauci. “There’s no ‘cherry-picking’ possible because our independent MTurk coders read every transcript between late January and late March.”
Image credit: Screengrab / Fox News . YouTube