Anchors at Fox News failed to meaningfully challenge President Trump as he repeatedly misled the network’s viewers during a virtual town hall on Tuesday, effectively surrendering its airwaves to the President as he even appeared to cite a conspiratorial outlet to argue his case.
While Fox News is known as the home to such pro-Trump hosts as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, Tuesday’s town hall was held by Bill Hemmer and Harris Faulkner, two anchors the network bills as members of a supposedly fearless and hard-hitting news division.
But neither Hemmer, who is the chief breaking news anchor at Fox News and was broadcasting from the White House, nor Faulkner, who was broadcasting remotely from a studio, effectively pushed back on Trump during the two-hour event -— despite obvious misinformation peddled by the President.
Trump, for instance, repeatedly compared the coronavirus to the seasonal flu. “We’ve never closed down the country for the flu,” the President said.
Hemmer, however, repeatedly failed to note that Covid-19 has a significantly higher mortality rate than the seasonal flu.
The World Health Organization has estimated the mortality rate to be 3.4%. And Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the United States, has estimated that it is about 2%. Fauci even previously told Fox News, “The mortality for seasonal flu is 0.1% so even if [Covid-19] goes down to 1% it’s still 10 times more fatal.”
At another point during the interview, Trump said he would “love” for the country to “open by Easter” on April 12.
Instead of challenging Trump, and noting that his deadline is at odds with what many medical professionals and infectious disease experts have said, Faulkner replied, “Oh wow. OK.”
Hemmer added, “That would be a great American resurrection.”
After being criticized online for his failure to follow up, Hemmer came back from a commercial break and asked Trump the question again: “You’d like to be back to normal by Easter Sunday. That’s 19 days from now. Is that true? Is that possible?”
Trump replied to Hemmer, saying he believed it to be possible and once again compared it to the much less serious seasonal flu. Hemmer asked Trump how he could determine it might be safe, and Trump reiterated his belief that the country “has to get back to work.”
In one jarring moment, Trump assailed Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who criticized the federal government hours earlier for not sending enough ventilators to the state.
“He should have ordered the ventilators, and he had a choice. He had a chance,” Trump said.
“Because right here, I just got this out,” he added, reading from a piece of paper. “That he refused to order 15,000 ventilators. I will show this to Bill.”
The article Trump read to Hemmer -— and the Fox News audience at large — appeared to be from the Gateway Pundit, a fringe outlet with a long history of peddling right-wing conspiracy theories.
“NY Gov. Cuomo Rejected Buying Recommended 16,000 Ventilators in 2015 for Pandemic, Established Death Panels and Lottery Instead,” was the headline Trump read aloud, the same as one posted on the Gateway Pundit’s website Sunday.
“He shouldn’t be talking about us,” Trump then said. “He’s supposed to be buying his own ventilators.”
Hemmer did not challenge Trump – on either the source of the information or Trump’s suggestion that the federal government doesn’t bear any responsibility for providing ventilators given that Cuomo could have made the purchase nearly five years before the coronavirus outbreak.
A Fox News spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Fox News has only recently started to take the coronavirus more seriously. For weeks, top hosts and personalities on the network downplayed the coronavirus. Personalities — such as Hannity Ingraham — told their audiences that news coverage of the virus was aimed at hurting Trump politically.
The often-dismissive messaging from Fox News hosts was notable, given that the viewers who make up the network’s audience skew older and are thus more vulnerable to the disease.
Polls from both Gallup and Pew Research revealed that Republicans — who are largely distrustful of mainstream news organizations and primarily turn to Fox News and other right-wing sources for information on current events — were much less likely to take the risks of the coronavirus as seriously as their Democratic counterparts.