Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
The Trump-Fox News feedback loop – where President Donald Trump gets ideas from Fox News or the network gets its talking points from Trump – has been with us for years. The goal has always been the same: Help the President at all costs.
Potentially the most disturbing example of this unholy alliance has come recently regarding the deadly coronavirus. Some (not all) Fox News hosts, along with Trump, have spewed misleading information about the risks posed by Covid-19, making it hard to determine who was leading whom. For example, in late February, various Fox News hosts framed the Democrats’ criticism of Trump’s then handling of the outbreak as simply another attempt to hurt Trump politically.
Trump’s chief cheerleader Sean Hannity, on his February 27 show, did note that the “rapid spread” of the coronavirus was “concerning.” But Hannity gave his political spin, slamming “some on the left” for “literally whipping this country into a frenzy,” as he claimed that Democrats were “sadly politicizing and weaponizing an infectious disease as their next effort to bludgeon President Trump.”
Unsurprisingly, the very next night, Trump downplayed the threat of the coronavirus at a rally, instead going on the attack and, like Fox News, claiming the Democrats “are politicizing the coronavirus.” The President then ticked off what he views as the Democrats’ other attempts to take him down which he has deemed in the past “hoaxes,” from “Russia” to “impeachment” then adding, “and this is their new hoax.”
We also saw Fox News hosts follow Trump’s lead in undermining the danger posed by the coronavirus as being no more dangerous than the seasonal flu. Trump stated that point-blank on February 26, saying, “This is like a flu,” at a White House news conference. It comes as no surprise that soon Fox News hosts were making the same claim, such as Jeanine Pirro declaring on the March 7 edition of her show, “all the talk about coronavirus being so much deadlier doesn’t reflect reality.” Pirro argued that the flu would be much more deadly if not for the fact that we have a vaccine against it. She was pushing for a vaccine against Covid-19, although experts say it won’t be ready for many months.
But given that even Trump has recently declared that the virus could result in between 100,000 to 240,000 Americans dying, the pro-Trump network hosts have lately been less about undermining the threat of the virus. Instead, Trump’s Fox News media allies Hannity and Tucker Carlson appear to have pivoted to defending Trump from political fallout over the federal government’s inability to provide states with desperately needed medical supplies and the economic consequences of shutting down large swaths of America in the absence of a robust national testing and tracing program to stem the virus’ spread.
For example, in response to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s criticism that Trump has not provided New York with life-saving ventilators, Hannity took to his show on March 27 and slammed Cuomo for “whining, bitching and constant complaining” about the lack of such equipment. Hannity even falsely proclaimed that, “Everything that New York will need, Cuomo has requested, the President has delivered.” Obviously that’s not accurate as Cuomo the very next day on March 28, and countless times since, noted the lack of ventilators and other medical supplies.
On Saturday Hannity penned an op-ed for Fox News again slamming Cuomo, this time blaming him for not spending money years ago to buy ventilators.
There’s little doubt that Trump would wholly support Hannity’s attacks on Cuomo. In fact, during Saturday’s White House press briefing, Trump went after Cuomo claiming the he has not been “gracious,” given that the Trump administration has “given the governor of New York more than anybody has ever been given in a long time.”
The fact New York has received so much assistance from the federal government is obviously because the state has by far the most cases of coronavirus in America – but to Trump doing the right thing demands that a governor be grateful to him.
Then there’s Tucker Carlson who, unlike Hannity, did use his Fox News show to sound alarm bells about the deadliness of the coronavirus beginning on March 9, in a monologue that reportedly influenced Trump to take the threat of the virus more seriously.
But now Carlson appears to either be trying to make Dr. Anthony Fauci a scapegoat for our economic downturn – thus giving Trump political cover – or persuade Trump to ignore the advice of this world-renowned doctor. On his show Friday, Carlson attacked Fauci’s call to shut down America for long periods to stop the spread of the virus as being “national suicide.” Carlson went on to criticize Fauci by stating, “Fauci is not an economist – or for that matter, someone who fears being unemployed.” Carlson added that, “We should never let someone like that run the country.”
Given Carlson’s monologue Friday, it’s no surprise that come Saturday’s press conference Trump echoed his impatience with keeping the country closed, saying “We don’t want to be doing this for months and months and months.” This just moments after he warned that America’s “toughest week” of the coronavirus crisis was upon us, predicting “there will be death.”
It’s impossible to know where Trump stops and Fox News begins or vice versa. But what’s abundantly clear is that both have one common interest: Defend Trump at all costs – even if that means undermining doctors and lying about a deadly virus that is killing our fellow Americans.