Media gone wild: Misinformation campaigners have backers
First Voice

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Here's part of an April 6 Vanity Fair article: "Fox is now lawyering up, bracing for a litany of public-interest lawsuits and letters of condemnation for pedaling misinformation for weeks prior to coronavirus's explosion in the U.S."

It isn't exactly news to say that some of Fox's coverage prior to and during the COVID-19 outbreak on U.S. soil has been questionable. After all, this is a media outlet that employs hosts who call Chinese students in the U.S. as "children of the people who are trying to displace us" or say that COVID-19 isn't more deadly than flu because without "flu vaccine, the flu would be a pandemic."

One normally expects that the prospect of spending millions of dollars in a marathon of law battles would be daunting enough to make someone think twice. However, the company's strategy is "not settlements, even if it costs way more to fight the lawsuit and seek sanctions for ambulance-chasing lawyers." And apparently, according to the Vanity Fair article, Trish Regan, the ousted host, was not taken off air because of her remarks about people using the pandemic to demonize U.S. President Donald Trump, but as the result of a calculated move by the company's leadership who was using her as "a scapegoat for critics who lampooned the network for dangerously misinforming its viewers about a deadly pandemic."

Looking beyond the Fox Corporation, it doesn't take much to see that there's no reason for Fox to back down. David Mastracci, the managing editor of a Canada-based online publication called the Passage, surveyed China and COVID-19 related news articles published by five Canadian outlets. He came to the conclusion that the most frequent COVID-19 related accusations against China have either been false, ignoring international authorities' assessment, or could be easily repudiated by public data.

A sign for face masks in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2020. /Reuters

A sign for face masks in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2020. /Reuters

Senior U.S. government officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and even people in the White House have propagated falsehoods and made insinuations to try to pin the responsibility of the outbreak on their political enemies – both foreign and domestic, while repeatedly claiming that the virus was not a serious threat. With allies across professional and national borders, there is enough support for a media company like Fox to stay on course.

But, this doesn't mean that no one is paying for such actions. Average viewers who depend on these media are being put into a dangerous position by absorbing doctored information day in and day out. Based on a poll done by the Pew Research Center in mid-March, 79 percent of Fox viewers believe that the media is exaggerating the risk posed by COVID-19, comparing to the 35 percent who watches MSNBC. And since the poll was conducted, the confirmed COVID-19 infection has risen to 390,000 with the death toll pierced 12,000.

And even with the hard data as support, Tucker Carlson, one of the prominent hosts at Fox, suggested on April 6 an end to the "social distancing" guideline, an act that has been the basic line of defense against the virus used by almost all infected countries around the world.

On April 2, 74 journalists and communications professors authored a joint letter to Fox saying that the "viewers of Fox… have been regularly subjected to misinformation relayed by the network – false statements downplaying the prevalence of COVID-19 and its harms." The message has been clear. But, the problem is, with allies in media and in politics and a substantial portion of the population already enthralled by the rosy picture painted, will a wake-up call come in time, before more unnecessary sacrifices are made?

Script writer: Huang Jiyuan

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