Love it or hate it, FOX News remains one of the most popular and influential 24-hour news channels on television. The company, owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, is known for spreading conspiracy theories related to the pandemic and public health, but it’s also considered a pillar of conservative media, with over 1 million total daily viewers, currently more than any other network.
In a scathing op-ed for NBC News, a respected ER doctor writes that the network and its stars bear responsibility for the recent surge in COVID-19 cases as the more contagious Delta variant spreads across the country.
Taking Aim at Conservative Media
FOX News received more than its fair share of criticism throughout the Trump presidency, but the network is now drawing the ire of healthcare workers as it continues to downplay the severity of the pandemic.
In the recently published article, “How Fox News’ Covid Vaccine Denialism Hurts My Patients,” Michigan ER Dr. Rob Davidson writes about how his patients often come in with symptoms of COVID-19 but either deny care or refuse to get tested because they don’t believe COVID-19 is real.
“I don’t blame my patients for their refusal. What breaks my heart, as someone who took an oath to prevent harm, is that my patients choose to abandon the science and evidence that can save their lives. I do blame Fox News and other right-wing media outlets for poisoning the minds of millions of Americans with the deceptive propaganda they spray into living rooms 24/7,” he writes.
He even goes so far as to mention some of the network’s hosts by name.
“What’s truly tragic is that the disinformation my patients and their families hear from their favorite commentators and pundits is dangerously, life-threateningly wrong. They should listen to their family doctors for medical advice, not Sean Hannity — who researchers have connected to higher infection rates — or Tucker Carlson, who suggested with zero evidence that COVID-19 vaccines don’t work.”
The article comes as the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to rise. The CDC says the number jumped to 32,278 new infections last week, up more 66% from the week before and 145% from the week before that, mainly among areas with low vaccination rates.
“The high cost of right-wing COVID-19 denialism hit my community hard during the first surge of this crisis. Now, we’re seeing a new, dangerous anti-vaccine push from these media sources, even as the Delta variant threatens communities with low vaccination rates,” Davidson adds in the piece.
This isn’t the first time Dr. Davidson has taken a political stand during the pandemic. He published an op-ed in October 2020 in the New York Times with the title, “My Patients Can’t Take Trump’s Advice,” where he blasted the former president’s handling of the pandemic.
Is He Right?
Recent studies show that around one fifth of Americans believe coronavirus-related conspiracy theories, including the false notion that the vaccines contain government-issued microchips. Researchers say these ideas tend to be more popular among conservative Americans and those without a college degree.
Separate studies also show that regular viewers of FOX News tend to be more hesitant to get vaccinated than regular viewers of other broadcast news networks; however, researchers noted that, “it is possible that individuals gravitate toward the cable news networks that present a view on the pandemic that is aligned with their own opinions.”
A spokesperson for the network disputed the idea that the company is responsible for the recent surge in cases. They pointed to several recent appearances in which respected officials promoted the importance of getting vaccinated. The network has also run public service announcements highlighting its vaccine finder tool.
Whether viewers choose FOX News because it aligns with their existing views or they are being influenced by what’s being said on the air, the network is a private company, which means its stars can comment on the pandemic as they see fit.
For now, Davidson will just have to stick with op-eds. He ends the piece with a grave warning, writing, “Time is not on our side. We must do what science and evidence tell us demonstrably work to defeat COVID-19: Wear a mask, get vaccinated and stop watching Fox News.”