Fox News Stars Now Pretend They Never Said What They Said
After spending weeks downplaying the deadly virus that now has nearly the entire U.S.
under some form of lockdown, several Fox News stars are now attempting to gaslight
viewers by claiming they sounded the alarms over the coronavirus all along while it was
actually the media and Democrats who dismissed it.
The network’s most-viewed primetime host Sean Hannity has recently devoted much
airtime to insisting he has “always taken the coronavirus seriously,” despite no less than a
month ago suggesting the pandemic might be a “deep state” plot to hurt the economy or, at
another point, claiming concerns over the novel virus was a “new hoax” designed to
Like many of his Fox colleagues, Hannity suddenly changed his tune late last month on the
virus after President Donald Trump finally pivoted to treating it seriously. The Fox star and
unofficial Trump adviser has since taken aim at Democrats and critics who have rightly
called out his previous coverage, claiming that all along he was the one warning of the
coming disaster while they were the ones turning a blind eye.
But despite Hannity’s perceived confidence in his coronavirus coverage, video and audio
recordings do exist. The Fox star spent weeks misleadingly comparing the deadly virus to
the seasonal flu while claiming Democrats were “politicizing and actually weaponizing an
infectious disease” to “bludgeon” Trump. (Those comments throughout February and March
that Democrats were nearly identical to those infamously made by now-former Fox
Business host Trish Regan, who, on March 9, with an on-air graphic blaring “Coronavirus
Impeachment Scam,” insisted the outbreak was “another attempt to impeach” Trump and
“demonize and destroy the president.” Weeks later, Regan was let go by Fox.)
Comparing the novel virus to the seasonal flu, meanwhile, was a tactic Trump and his allies
adopted for weeks on end to downplay the deadliness of COVID-19 and excuse the
president’s slow response. But that misleading comparison was thrown in Hannity’s face last
month during an interview with top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.
When the primetime host asked Fauci how “dangerous” the virus is “compared maybe to
the regular flu,” the top doc replied, “But Sean, to make sure your viewers get an accurate
idea about what goes on, you mentioned seasonal flu. The mortality for seasonal flu is 0.1
[percent]. The mortality for this is about two, two-and-a-half percent. It’s probably lower
than that, it’s probably closer to one. But even if it’s one, it’s 10 times more lethal than the
seasonal flu. You gotta make sure that people understand that!”
But now Hannity insists he was sober on the virus all along—and he’s gone to war with any
reporter who says otherwise.
Having already issued a toothless threat to sue other news outlets for criticizing his
coronavirus coverage, the Fox star blew his top on Wednesday, melting down over tech
journalist Kara Swisher’s New York Times column blaming Fox News for her mother’s initial
lack of concern over the virus. The president’s confidant unleashed his own Trump-like
tweetstorm, blasting Swisher on both his radio and television shows, and hinted that he
may take her to court.
“One far-left media mob maniac over at The New York Times is using the virus to attack her
least favorite network and yours truly,” Hannity blared. “Now, if she actually watched our
coverage and cared about the truth—actually she should put a correction in her newspaper.
She would know that we reported without fear from the very beginning.”
The rest of his Wednesday night rant, which included a bevy of childish insults directed at
other reporters and networks, largely followed a formula Hannity’s has honed in recent
days: Cherry-pick a handful of op-ed headlines to claim mainstream outlets downplayed the
crisis in February, credit Trump’s partial China travel ban for saving “thousands of lives,” and
highlight an interview he did with Fauci in January as proof he was always concerned about
Pointing to one New York Times column from early February by a travel reporter questioning
the efficacy of the travel restrictions, Hannity asked on his radio show if Swisher’s mom may
have been planning a trip to China. “Maybe she had a planned trip! If she was listening to
her daughter’s newspaper at the time, that would have been a really, really, really dumb
idea,” he yelled, adding, “I’ll put my timeline up against yours.”
Additionally, the Fox News star—infamous for peddling the insidious Seth Rich conspiracy
and other assorted “deep state” claims involving Hillary Clinton—has also now taken to
framing the rest of the media as the real conspiracy theorists. In a Monday night tirade,
Hannity labeled rival network MSNBC “Conspiracy TV” while wondering aloud—without a
hint of irony—how the public could trust “outright conspiracy theorists” on the coronavirus.
But Hannity is not the only Fox News personality to pretend he never played a role in
peddling the dismissive, often-misleading coronavirus talking points he is on-record as
At the top of Wednesday’s broadcast of The Five, Fox’s popular late-afternoon chatfest, co-
host Jesse Watters—who made headlines early on for his dismissive, often-cavalier attitude
towards the virus—took up the Hannity line of criticizing Democrats and the media for
downplaying the pandemic.
In a transparent attempt to deflect criticism of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, Watters
praised the president for “slapping the travel ban on China” (the only example of early
action he can cite, of course, because the president subsequently dragged his feet on
preparedness and claimed the virus was not going to severely affect the U.S.) and for briefly
mentioning the disease in his State of the Union address in February. “The address that
Nancy [Pelosi] ripped up afterwards,” Watters added.
Watters continued with the partisan shots: “Not too long ago, Cuomo was saying go eat out
in New York City. [Bill] de Blasio had all of the schools open. Nancy Pelosi said bring your
friends to Chinatown and go to the bars. Joe Biden said the travel ban was racist.” (On Jan.
3/527, a group of 31 Democratic senators sent Trump’s health secretary a letter expressing
concern that the administration wasn’t prepared to provide a “quick, robust, and
comprehensive approach to the outbreak.” A day before that, Senate Minority Leader Chuck
Schumer called on HHS to declare a public-health emergency. The following week, Sen. Chris
Murphy (D-CT) lamented that Trump officials “aren’t taking this seriously enough.”
And Watters fired off at the media: “Every column in The New York Times, The Washington
Post, downplaying this thing.” ( On Jan. 22, former White House ebola czar Ronald Klain
wrote in the Post that we’re now “past the ‘if’ question and squarely facing the ‘how bad will
it be’ phase of the response.” A day later, Yale Institute for Global Health Director Saad
Omer warned in the Times that the U.S. was not ready for an outbreak, offering
preparedness tips for the administration.)
While the Fox News host is now attempting to broadly paint Trump critics or the media as
the real coronavirus downplayers, Watters is of course on-record as explicitly telling his
viewers that the coronavirus was no big deal.
“If I get it, I'll beat it,” he said on March 3. “I’m not lying. It's called the power of positive
thinking, and I think America needs to wake up to that.” He patted himself on the back for
sitting next to an “Asian guy” on the subway and ordering “Chinese food.”
“I'm not afraid of the coronavirus, and no one else should be that afraid either,“ Watters
Even after the president finally addressed the nation on the pandemic and cities began to
lock down, Watters still adopted a cavalier attitude about the disease.
“I’m taking coronavirus seriously but I’m not panicking,” he declared at the top of the March
14 broadcast of his weekend show Watters’ World. “If I get it, I get it. And I’ll beat it, It’s not
the plague. I’m a healthy young guy.”
Later in his monologue, he compared COVID-19 to the 2009-10 H1N1 pandemic, which was
highly contagious but had a low mortality rate of 0.02 percent. “Nearly 13,000 Americans
died from swine flu,” Watters stated. “So far, just a few dozen Americans have died from
coronavirus. A few dozen versus 13,000. In one year. This isn’t downplaying, this is just
context. Now doctors say things will get worse, but that’s how it stacks up to the last big
Less than three weeks after those comments, more than 6,000 Americans have died from
the coronavirus, and the White House task force’s most optimistic projection of the U.S.
body count is between 100,000 to 240,000 deaths.
At one point, as the president pivoted away from downplaying the pandemic’s risks, Watters
admitted on March 16 that he did not take the threat “seriously” enough until then, days
after telling Fox viewers that he would “beat it” and touting the then-low death toll.
Despite these Fox stars’ protestations that they were actually the ones issuing dire warnings,
there is empirical evidence that Fox News has directly influenced its (mostly older) viewers
to believe that concerns about the pandemic are overblown. According to a recent Pew
Research poll, 79 percent of the network’s viewers feel the media has exaggerated the risks.
Dozens of journalism professors, meanwhile, recently wrote an open letter to Fox News
founder Rupert Murdoch and his son, Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch, accusing the
network of peddling misinformation on the virus.
“The average age of Fox News viewers is 65. It is well established that this population incurs
the highest risk from the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, Fox News viewers are at
special risk from the coronavirus,” the letter read.
“But viewers of Fox News, including the president of the United States, have been regularly
subjected to misinformation relayed by the network—false statements downplaying the
prevalence of COVID-19 and its harms; misleading recommendations of activities that
people should undertake to protect themselves and others, including casual
recommendations of untested drugs; false assessments of the value of measures urged
upon the public by their elected political leadership and public health authorities.”