Professors accuse Fox News of downplaying coronavirus. These clips suggest otherwise.

In an open letter to Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch and Fox Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch, professors from across the country call upon Fox News to “help protect the lives of all Americans” as he claims the network has aired “false statements downplaying the prevalence of COVID-19 and its harms.”

More than 170 people, mostly academics, have signed on to the document, according to Columbia University Journalism Professor Todd Gitlin.  The letter calls Fox News a “danger to public health,” and then states, “Fox News has been derelict in its duty to provide clear and accurate information about COVID-19” while calling out Fox News hosts and guests including Sean Hannity whose “commentary encouraged President Trump to trivialize the threat and helped obstruct national, state, and local efforts to limit the coronavirus.” 

Others named include Steve Hilton and Tucker Carlson. 

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Carlson, for one, sounded the alarm as early as in late-January, when he had on his show Dr. Marc Siegel, for a segment titled, “Coronavirus: What is it and why is it so deadly?” The same segment also reported the worldwide coronavirus death toll up to that point. Also in late January, Siegel appeared on Carlson’s show to urge people “not to travel to China right now.” In yet another segment, Carlson had on his show Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) who warned of the possibility of a “global pandemic” on January 28. 

Carlson wasn’t the only one to sound the coronavirus alarm early on Fox News. On January 27, Media Matters, which devotes its time to criticizing primarily Fox News, bashed the network, specifically, Fox & Friends and America’s Newsroom,  for “fearmongering” when it came to coronavirus. The two shows combined account for six hours per day of Fox News’ airtime. Carlson’s show airs one hour per day. 


On January 22, Fox & Friends reported that “a deadly and contagious virus from China has made its way into the U.S.”

Fox News’ Arthel Neville, a weekend anchor, also hosted a segment on January 25 on coronavirus, reporting the number of deaths up to that point, as well as the news that the first case of coronavirus had been confirmed in Canada.  Neville had a doctor on the broadcast who told her that the chances of more cases popping up in the U.S. were “still pretty high.” 

Despite multiple examples just like these of Fox News covering coronavirus as a legitimate threat even back in January, Gitlin writes that “the network’s delinquency was effective,” and cites a Pew Research poll that found that “79 percent of Fox News viewers surveyed believed the media had exaggerated the risks of the virus.”

[RELATED: Prof to students: Block Fox News from family members’ TVs ‘when they’re not looking’]

Fearful of the repercussions of “misinformation” by Fox being spread, professors across the country are now encouraging Fox News to ensure that the information they deliver “is based on scientific facts.” Names listed directly under Gitlin include Mark Feldstein (Eaton Chair of Broadcast Journalism, University of Maryland), Adam Hochschild (Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley), and Edward Wasserman (Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley).

Campus Reform reached out to Fox News for comment, but was directed to Hannity’s comments to Newsweek, in which he stated, “Go to my website and you’ll see irrefutable evidence that I have taken this seriously way before most in the media did.” 

Hannity then continued to say he never called the coronavirus a hoax explaining, “I said it was a hoax for them to be using it as a bludgeon on Trump. And they are. Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi are talking about an investigation. Now? In the middle of a pandemic?”

Follow the author of this article: Emily Kokot