America faces an existential threat from the COVID-19 virus, but our response is made needlessly more difficult because a partisan media has weaponized the virus as a cudgel against the president. Instead of a rallying point for America, our fight against the pandemic has become a political football.
New York Times media critic Ben Smith has even suggested that America could have averted the coronavirus crisis altogether during “two crucial weeks in late February and early March,” when Fox News Channel’s “hosts and guests, speaking to Fox’s predominantly elderly audience, repeatedly played down the threat of what would soon become a deadly pandemic.”
Let’s get the facts right.
In Mr. Smith’s cherry-picking of Fox News Channel transcripts, he ignored altogether the larger point the hosts and guests had made: the “hoax” they complained about was the partisan media onslaught against the president’s handling of the crisis, not the crisis itself.
Far from downplaying the pandemic, one of the most popular hosts on the network, Tucker Carlson, was among the earliest media figures who called attention to the crisis, as Mr. Smith himself acknowledges. Mr. Carlson’s news programming and commentary on the pandemic — like those on scores of other Fox News Channel shows — has been serious, insightful and balanced.
Mr. Smith failed to mention that another of his targets, Sean Hannity, had been among the first on any network to use his program to host a discussion of the pandemic by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Make no mistake: The complaints about media politicizing this crisis are accurate and well deserved. If anything, considering the magnitude of the crisis before us, these criticisms are understated.
Readers of The Washington Post, for instance, have been told that this deadly virus is “Trump’s Chernobyl,” while viewers of CNN’s Editor-at-Large, Chris Cillizza, learned that it is “Donald Trump’s Katrina.”
In a story that diagnosed the president as “pathological,” Slate offered a different but equally snarky take. “This isn’t Trump’s Katrina,” Slate said. “It’s stupid, slow-motion 9/11.”
Meanwhile, The New York Times’ Gail Collins’ contribution to fighting the pandemic has been to suggest a new sobriquet. Coronavirus, she suggested, should be renamed “Trumpvirus.”
At what should be — what must be — a time of national unity, a biased, one-sided national media is tearing us apart.
With millions of people at home with little else to do but play with their Smartphones, Twitter has become even more of a political war zone than usual. It has devolved into a 140-character carnival of incivility where keyboard warriors express their contempt for complete strangers who happen to support President Trump’s leadership in the crisis.
Worse yet, when the most pugnacious of the national media were called on their frenzy of partisan hate, their biggest media guns were trained on those who did so.
When Sean Hannity criticized Democrats for “using this virus as a political weapon against the president,” Salon called him a “carnival barker and Trump sycophant.”
CNN’s Brian Stelter went even further toward the ledge, citing an unnamed source purporting to be a Fox News Channel producer to claim that Fox’s coverage is “hazardous to our viewers.”
Given the media’s unbridled hostility toward the president, it might be too much to ask that for once they sheath their swords. I hope that is not the case, not now when we’re in the midst of a national emergency. There are moments when strident partisanship is singularly inappropriate, and right now is one of those.
The media’s need to control their political appetite is never greater than at a time like this. The American people are looking to them for truthful information, not politically-motivated propaganda. One need only look back to their coverage of our last national crisis — 9/11 — to see how it’s done.
• L. Brent Bozell III is founder and president of the Media Research Center.