More than 3 in 4 Republicans believe the media has exaggerated the risk posed by the coronavirus, with more than half of GOPers (53%) suggesting that the press has “greatly” exaggerated the dangers posed by the virus.
That’s according to a new Pew Research Center national poll — one of the first comprehensive looks we’ve gotten at how the virus is impacting public opinion since people began to take the idea of social distancing seriously over the past week.
Given the seriousness of the threat posed by the coronavirus — some projections suggest hundreds of thousands of people could die before a vaccine is developed — the disconnect between what the media is reporting and how people are perceiving those reports is concerning.
And while Republicans are far more likely to doubt the media’s ability to not overhype the illness, Democrats, too are skeptical — with 22% saying the media is “greatly” exaggerating the threat and 27% saying they are “slightly” exaggerating it.
The GOP number, however, is the one that stands out, given that far more Republicans believe the media is greatly pumping up the dangers of coronavirus than think the media is getting it about right (17%) or underestimating the threat (6%).
It’s hard not to draw a straight line between the numbers of Republican doubters about the virus and how Fox News has, until very recently, covered it.
Even as most medical professionals were warning of the spread of the virus, many of Fox News’ most prominent voices were dismissing it as nothing more than the latest attempt by Democrats and the media to hurt President Donald Trump.
“This is yet another attempt to impeach the President,” Fox Business anchor Trish Regan said last week. Sean Hannity suggested on March 9 that the coronavirus was nothing worse than the “standard” flu and said he would “call out anyone and everyone who is using this virus as a political weapon against this President.”
President Trump, too, spent much of the past month — until the last few days — downplaying the virus. “I’m not concerned at all,” he said March 7. Three days later he said: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
And of course, Trump has spent much of his presidency seeking to undermine the credibility of the media in the eyes of his supporters — repeatedly referring to the media as “fake” and insisting, without evidence, that the press made up bad stories about him.
Now, at a time when we need a common set of facts and set of information distribution channels we can trust, we don’t have them. That is not an accident.
The Point: Trump’s war on the media — and Fox News’ helping hand — has consequences. We are seeing them now.