The only thing worse than a viral pandemic is the person who would weaponize it for political gain.

The Washington Post published a report this week claiming conservative media may be responsible for the severity of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.

“New research explores how conservative media misinformation may have intensified the severity of the pandemic,” reads the headline.

The “democracy dies in darkness” newspaper declared elsewhere on social media, “Analysis: New research explores how conservative media misinformation may have intensified the severity of the pandemic.”

Are we really still doing this — even after members of the not-conservative press, healthcare officials, and elected representatives cheered and even participated in the massive rallies to protest the wrongful death of George Floyd?

“In recent weeks, three studies have focused on conservative media’s role in fostering confusion about the seriousness of the coronavirus,” the report reads. “Taken together, they paint a picture of a media ecosystem that amplifies misinformation, entertains conspiracy theories and discourages audiences from taking concrete steps to protect themselves and others.”

It adds, “The end result, according to one of the studies, is that infection and mortality rates are higher in places where one pundit who initially downplayed the severity of the pandemic — Fox News’s Sean Hannity — reaches the largest audiences.”

The Washington Post, citing a peer-reviewed study and two working papers, one of which was dissected here, highlights specific incidents to bolster the claim that conservative media may have “intensified the severity of the pandemic.”

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, the report notes, suggested in February during an appearance on Fox’s Sunday Morning Futures that the virus may be connected to a Wuhan research facility. The Washington Post article never gets around to explaining what Cotton’s remarks have to do with the public not taking the coronavirus seriously.

Fox News medical contributor Marc Siegel, the report continues, said on Hannity’s program in March that “the virus should be compared to the flu. Because at worst, at worst, worst-case scenario, it could be the flu.”

Finally, we get one that is accurate and not misleading. Siegel did say that.

Hannity himself also promoted a “dire warning” on Feb. 25 that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had issued that day regarding “the deadly coronavirus.” Hannity said on Feb. 26 of the virus, “It’s the type of thing you want to be prepared, you want to be ready.” He also said on Feb. 27 that the virus is “dangerous, “tragic,” and “serious.” The Washington Post report, ignoring all that, says this instead:

Administering a nationally representative phone survey with 1,008 respondents, they found that people who got most of their information from mainstream print and broadcast outlets tended to have an accurate assessment of the severity of the pandemic and their risks of infection. But those who relied on conservative sources, such as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories or unfounded rumors, such as the belief that taking vitamin C could prevent infection, that the Chinese government had created the virus, and that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exaggerated the pandemic’s threat “to damage the Trump presidency.”

Then, there is this doozy of a passage referring to the studies’ findings: “And as with much social science research, definitively proving causality — that Fox News coverage caused people to change behavior, which in turn caused the pandemic to spread more — is beyond the scope of the methods used.”

This is the point where you’re supposed to stop reading and cancel your subscription to the Washington Post, whose reporter literally commits the fallacy that paragraph warned against.

“The results are suggestive of this but not conclusive,” said Jevin West, the director of the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington. “It could be, for example, that long-standing mistrust of government or influence from current political leaders were the main drivers.”

You don’t say.

Look, Hannity did downplay the seriousness of the pandemic when it first came to the U.S., as did former Fox Business host Trish Regan, who left the network shortly after she suggested the virus was a Democratic plot to hurt President Trump.

But do you know how else got it wrong? Basically everyone. CNN, Vox, the Associated Press, Forbes, and Newsweek got it wrong. Elected officials, including Trump, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, got it wrong. A great number of people failed to take this thing seriously when it first came to the states. The public was told by officials at all levels (by Anthony Fauci even at one point) not to worry. The public was also told it did not need to invest in masks. The public was told to go on as if nothing had changed.

Yet, somehow, conservative media has become the scapegoat that liberal journalists use to take away their own sins. It’s an especially confounding allegation, considering the top three states with the worst death rates from the coronavirus are New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts — “MAGA country,” evidently.

If people want to knock Hannity for his initially cavalier attitude towards the virus, go right ahead. But if we are going to assign blame to those who got this thing wrong and possibly misled the public about the dangers of the virus, then throw a rock in the air. The Washington Post and the people who conducted these studies are going to have to widen the net if they want to present a picture that is accurate, not just the product of their prejudices.

Author: Becket Adams

Source: Washington Examiner: Washington Post blames Limbaugh and Hannity for severity of coronavirus pandemic