Coronavirus: Fox News largely ignores death-toll milestone

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Fox News host Tucker Carlson discusses 'Populism and the Right,' during the National Review Institute's Ideas Summit at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel March 29, 2019 in Washington, DC. - Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America/TNS

As most of the nation’s media organizations on Wednesday somberly reflected on a grim coronavirus death toll milestone, Fox News largely downplayed the story during its prime-time programs, and on the network’s website.

“If historians were to go back and watch Fox News on the night the country passed 100,000 deaths, they’d be forgiven if they didn’t know it happened,” CNN Business reporter Oliver Darcy wrote in an analysis of the coverage.

Darcy pointed out that, while major mainstream media networks, publications and websites acknowledged that the U.S. surpassed 100,000 coronavirus-related deaths in a mere four months, Fox News programs had their focus elsewhere.

For example, Martha McCallum started her “The Story” program with a segment about a student suspected of two homicides. It took her more than 50 minutes to get to the news about the American carnage — and it came in her last segment.

Darcy went on to write that Tucker Carlson led his program with a monologue on “Big Tech censorship.” Sean Hannity with live coverage of the Minneapolis protests over the death of George Floyd. And Laura Ingraham with a call to reopen the country and an attack on Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Apparently, the Fox News website followed a similar pattern. During her MSNBC program Wednesday night, Rachel Maddow noted that readers wouldn’t find the death toll news unless they made a concerted effort.

“If you scroll down, and scroll down and scroll down … they do ultimately get to, oh yeah, 100,000 Americans dead,” she said. “They do get to it eventually.”

It should be pointed out that these observations are being made by employees of CNN and MSNBC, networks that are rivals of Fox News — and ones that that tend to trail Fox News in the ratings wars.

But the coronavirus coverage on Fox News is part of a larger pattern, according to Media Matters, a watchdog organization. In a study covering the period between May 11 and May 26, it found that the U.S. coronavirus death toll was mentioned “between the hours of 8-11 p.m. on Fox News only 11 times in almost 36 hours of programming.”

Also, if you perused the Fox News website on Thursday, you would have found more evidence of the downplaying strategy. The site did have a story that acknowledged the fact that the 100,000 death statistic is higher than American casualties suffered in the Korean (36,000) and Vietnam (58,000) wars. But it quickly pivoted to explain that “the death rate per number of cases and per 100,000 people ranks significantly lower than most other Western European countries.”

“We are living through what is widely considered to be one of the greatest stories in a generation,” Darcy wrote. “And the country’s most-watched cable news network keeps putting it on the back burner.”

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©2020 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)