News media, liberals mock conservatives for early pandemic comments they made themselves

Analysis of three months of public comments shows health officials, liberals and media personalities made comments similar to conservatives now being mocked.

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TrevorNoah
The Comedy Channel's Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show.
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Updated: April 7, 2020 - 12:07pm

A video entitled “Heroes of the Pandumbic” was posted Friday by the Comedy Central program “The Daily Show.” In less than 24 hours, it had racked up millions of views.

The video mocks conservative personalties and Trump administration officials, primarily those appearing on Fox News. A montage of brief clips implies these figures have uniquely missed the mark on coronavirus dangers, downplaying or denying the pandemic. 

But a review of three months of public comments by public health officials, news personalities and liberal figures show they made similar comments as those skewered by The Daily Show video but have escaped similar critique.

“Hannity. Rush. Dobbs. Ingraham. Pirro. Nunes. Tammy. Geraldo. Doocy. Hegseth. Schlapp. Siegel. Watters. Dr. Drew. Henry. Ainsley. Gaetz. Inhofe. Pence. Kudlow. Conway. Trump,” reads a Daily Show tweet promoting the video. “Today, we salute the Heroes of the Pandumbic.”

Liberal media and readers circulating the video often add remarks ranging from gleeful to hate-filled. 

It’s an all out information war. Coronavirus, a health crisis, has been weaponized and politicized in the media; each side blaming the other for hype and panic, or doubt and disinformation. 

Some are suggesting Fox News should be “sued” by coronavirus victims. Among the most charged language is that used in the blog Bulwark. Writer Jonathan Last attacks conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh claiming, “This vile, foolish man has blood on his hands.” Last adds, “When this is all over, there should be a reckoning—a very real, very thorough reckoning—for all of the people who made this pandemic worse by pushing disinformation and lies in the service of making it harder for the country to quickly respond to the crisis.”

Last’s critique was then retweeted by New York Times writer Jeremy Peters, who himself has tarred conservatives or Trump supporters as having missed the seriousness of the pandemic. In one rambling article, Peters attacks “Right wing media stars” whom he says have sowed “doubt, cynicism and misinformation” in “us-versus-them” rhetoric.

Ironically, even as Peters attacks others for alleged misinformation, he has been forced to admit errors in his own reporting. New York Times attorneys recently required the newspaper to make at least three revisions in one Peters article that mentioned this author. They also removed a paragraph and added a correction.

The one-sided condemnation, often targeting conservatives and Trump supporters, ignores an essential fact: many of the criticized comments accurately reflected guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at the time— and even today. Also, it turns out, liberal sources and public health officials have said the very same things without being criticized. It is as if the rhetoric is deemed to be dangerous or “coronavirus-doubting” only when uttered by conservatives, Trump supporters or other targeted people.

Here are 11 remarks criticized in The Daily Show video, compared to similar comments made by public health officials and liberal sources.

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Criticized personality: Sean Hannity of Fox News: "The sky is falling, we are all doomed, the end is near…or at least that’s what the media mob would like you to think.”

Others who said similar:

  • Wired, Robert Dingwall: "We should deescalate the war on coronavirus."
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo: “It is about the vulnerable. It's not about 95% of us. It's about a few percent who are vulnerable. That's all this is about. Bring down that anxiety, bring down that fear, bring down that paranoia.”
  • New York Times, Dr. David Katz: Is Our Fight Against Coronavirus Worse Than the Disease. "As much as 99 percent of active cases in the general population are ‘mild’ and do not require specific medical treatment.”
  • CDC: (current guidance through at least April 4) “The immediate risk of being exposed to this virus is still low for most Americans.”

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Criticized personality: Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh: "The hype of this thing as a pandemic … as ‘Oh, my God, if you get it you’re dead.'”

Others who said similar:

  • Gov. Cuomo: “Many people will get the virus, but few will be truly endangered. Hold both of those facts in your hands: Many will get it, up to 80 percent may get it, but few are truly endangered, and we know who they are.”
  • Axios, Rebecca Falconer: Cuomo: “[T]he general risk remains low in New York. ... No reason for anxiety.”
  • USA Today, John Bacon: Coronavirus not a global health crisis.

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Criticized personality: Fox News host Pete Hegseth: "The more I learn about coronavirus the less concerned I am.”

Others who said similar:

  • BBC, Robert Cuffe: “The UK government's chief medical advisor, Professor Chris Whitty, says even though the rates are higher for older people, ‘the great majority of older people will have a mild or moderate disease.'”
  • Vice President Mike Pence: “The risk to the American public of contracting the coronavirus remains low…To be clear: If you are a healthy American, the risk of contracting the coronavirus remains low.”
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Coronavirus Task Force: “This is not a major threat to the people in the United States and it is not something that the citizens of the United States right now should be worried about.”
  • New York Times, Katie Hafner: “Amid the uncertainty swirling around the coronavirus pandemic stands one incontrovertible fact: The highest rate of fatalities is among older people, particularly those with underlying medical conditions.”

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Criticized personalities: Fox News host Jeanine Pirro: "It’s a virus…like the flu…the talk about coronavirus being much more deadly doesn’t reflect reality.” Fox News medic correspondent Dr. Marc Siegel: “This virus should be compared to the flu because at worst…worst case scenario it could be the flu." Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera: “The far more deadly, more lethal threat right now is not the coronavirus, it’s the ordinary old flu." President Trump: "This is like a flu.”

Others who said similar:

  • Oxiris Barbot, New York City health commissioner: “We are encouraging New Yorkers to go about their everyday lives and suggest practicing everyday precautions that we do through the flu season.”
  • Associated Press, CDC and World Health Organization (WHO): “The virus is still much less widespread than annual flu epidemics, which cause up to 5 million severe cases around the world and up to 650,000 deaths annually, according to the WHO."
  • NPR, Allison Aubrey: "Worried about catching the new coronavirus? In the U.S., the flu is a bigger threat."
  • Buzzfeed, Dan Vergano: "Don’t worry about the coronavirus, worry about the flu."
  • Axios, Bob Herman: Why we panic about coronavirus but not the flu. “If you’re freaking out about coronavirus but you didn’t get a flu shot, you’ve got it backwards."
  • Kaiser Health News, "Something Far Deadlier Than The Wuhan Virus Lurks Near You."
  • William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University: "When we think about the relative danger of this new coronavirus and influenza ... coronavirus will be a blip on the horizon in comparison.”
  • LA Times, Soumya Karlamangla: For Americans, flu remains a bigger threat than coronavirus. “Unlike the coronavirus, which so far hasn’t led to any deaths in the U.S., influenza has killed approximately 10,000 Americans since October, according to federal data released Friday.” “…A much deadlier killer already stalking the United States has been largely overshadowed: the flu.”
  • University of California Riverside epidemiologist Brandon Brown: “Here in the U.S., [flu] is what is killing us…Why should we be afraid of something that has not killed people here in this country?” “I think we need to shift our attention back to the flu.” 
  • Daily Beast, Michael Daly: "The virus killing kids [flu] isn’t the one dominating headlines."
  • The Washington Post, Lenny Bernstein: "Get a Grippe, America. The flu is a much bigger threat than coronavirus, for now."
  • The Washington Post, "Why we should be wary of the aggressive government response to coronavirus."

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Criticized personality: Fox News host Jesse Waters: “If I get it, I’ll beat it.”

Others who said similar:

  • Lancet Medical Journal (March 12): Death rates lowest for those under 30, deaths at least 5x more common for people with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure etc., median age of deaths are 70 with deficit of infections among children.
  • U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams: “What we want most of America to know is that you're not at high risk for getting coronavirus, and if you do get it you are likely to recover. Ninety-eight, 99 percent of people are going to fully recover.”
  • US News and World Report, and Richardo Alonso-Zaldivar of Associated Press: “For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough.”
  • New York Times Dr. David Katz: Is Our Fight Against Coronavirus Worse Than the Disease? "As much as 99 percent of active cases in the general population are ‘mild’ and do not require specific medical treatment. The small percentage of cases that do require such services are highly concentrated among those age 60 and older, and further so the older people are.”

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Criticized personality: Dr. Drew Pinsky: “It’s milder than we thought…the fatality rate is gonna drop.” (It should be noted Dr. Pinsky has since apologized for his early assessment, saying he got it wrong.)

Others who said similar:

  • Web MD, Kathleen Doheny: The fatality rate from COVID-19 is not as high as experts have reported, according to a new analysis published Monday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
  • Dr. Fauci in the New England Journal of Medicine: “…the case fatality rate may be considerably less than 1%. This suggests that the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza (which has a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%)…”

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Criticized personalities: Rep. Devin Nunes. "If you’re healthy, you and your family, it’s a great time to just go out and go to a local restaurant..” Sen. Jame Inhofe. "Wanna shake hands?”

Others who said similar:

  • Dr. Peter Hotez: “Historically travel bans tend not to work very well, they tend to be counter productive.”
  • New York Times, Rosie Spinks: Who Says It’s Not Safe to Travel to China? The coronavirus travel ban is unjust and doesn’t work anyway. “The coronavirus outbreak seems defined by two opposing forces: the astonishing efficiency with which the travel industry connects the world and a political moment dominated by xenophobic rhetoric and the building of walls.”
  • New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio: "I'm encouraging New Yorkers to go on with your lives: get out on the town despite Coronavirus.” 
  • Oxiris Barbot, New York City health commissioner: People “who had recently traveled from Wuhan were not being urged to self-quarantine or avoid large public gatherings.” “There is no reason not to take the subway, not to take the bus, not to go out to your favorite restaurant, and certainly not to miss the parade next Sunday.”
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged people to visit San Francisco’s Chinatown. "That’s what we’re trying to do today is to say everything is fine here. Come because precautions have been taken. The city is on top of the situation."
  • Mayor of Florence Dario Nardella: Suggested residents hug Chinese people to encourage them in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

It may be inevitable today’s politically-dominated news media environment that coverage of an international health crisis would get divided up into camps of left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative or pro-Trump vs. anti-Trump.

But when there are such glaring inconsistencies in the media’s treatment of the same information, it tends to further erode public trust in the news rather than change any minds.

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