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America’s mainstream establishment media have begun bandying about a dubious, sloppy, non-peer-reviewed study that tries to link coronavirus deaths to Fox News’ coronavirus reporting.
Published by the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute for Economics, the study, “Misinformation During a Pandemic,” suggests there’s a nefarious reason why more viewers of FNC host Sean Hannity have allegedly died during the coronavirus pandemic than have viewers of host Tucker Carlson.
Since its publication Sunday, the study’s findings have been touted by numerous outlets, including Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, Forbes magazine, The Wrap, Salon, Vox, Yahoo News, etc., with eerily morbid headlines like the ones seen below:
Coronavirus deaths greater among Fox News viewers that prefer Hannity over Tucker Carlson, study says https://t.co/xXGLPt2Wvb
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) April 22, 2020
A new study published by the University of Chicago found that there were more COVID-19 cases and deaths in places where Fox News viewers prefer to watch Sean Hannity over Tucker Carlson compared to places where the opposite is true. https://t.co/wDp1fY621p
— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) April 21, 2020
“Greater exposure to ‘Hannity’ relative to ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ increased the number of total cases and deaths in the initial stages of the coronavirus pandemic.” https://t.co/lPE4E8JeLR
— Vox (@voxdotcom) April 22, 2020
The study posits that the alleged differences in death counts between Hannity’s viewers and Carlson’s viewers may exist because the former host allegedly downplayed the coronavirus threat with misinformation, while the latter host magnified the threat with legitimate information.
“Carlson warned viewers about the threat posed by the coronavirus from early February, while Hannity originally dismissed the risks associated with the virus before gradually adjusting his position starting late February. … [G]reater viewership of Hannity relative to Tucker Carlson Tonight is strongly associated with a greater number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the early stages of the pandemic,” the paper reads.
The researchers reached this conclusion by analyzing show transcripts.
For instance, they found that on Feb. 27, Hannity correctly announced to his audience that “today, thankfully, zero people in the United States of America have died from the coronavirus. Zero.”
That was a fact.
The researchers then compared Hannity’s factual observation to what Carlson had said two days earlier, which was that it was possible that a million+ Americans could die because of the coronavirus.
That was conjecture based on false modeling.
It seems that according to the researchers, Hannity’s dissemination of facts counts as dangerous misinformation that potentially led to his viewers underestimating the coronavirus, while Carlson’s dissemination of conjecture counts as useful information that led to his viewers taking the virus seriously enough.
Significant paper on the cost of misinformation. Basically, one standard deviation more viewership of Sean Hannity (denied seriousness of COVID) versus Tucker Carlson (took the pandemic seriously) is associated with in 20% more deaths at the county-level. https://t.co/7wDDXVOiu6 pic.twitter.com/lvHijnhOA5
— zeynep tufekci (@zeynep) April 20, 2020
The researchers also cited remarks Hannity made in early March in which he “continued to emphasize that the virus still posed a relatively minor threat to US citizens.”
At the time, many thought similarly, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat who was seen only days earlier encouraging locals in San Francisco to visit Chinatown on the basis that fears of the coronavirus were “unwarranted.”
There are many other equally troubling counter-facts that call into question the accuracy of the study, including the discussion that occurred on FNC’S “Hannity” on Jan. 27.
That evening, the lead member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, described the coronavirus threat as a “low risk” to the American people.
“So, the report we heard is correct. It’s a low risk, but the situation in China is very, very mobile in the sense that it’s evolving. It’s not a static situation. So it could get much worse,” he said to Hannity.
In response, the host asked him “what if it is worse.”
“What if it is worse? Is this a moment where maybe countries put politics aside, a little bit of pride aside, and do we have U.S. officials, should U.S. professional such as yourself get involved and help them out to try to contain this?” he said.
(Source: Fox News)
This conversation was not cited in the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics’s study. Nor were the bevy of additional examples of Fauci himself downplaying the crisis.
Second, the study further posits that “the median age of Fox News viewers is 68, substantially higher than that of CNN and MSNBC viewers (Pew, 2012).”
“Both due to its reach and the fact that over half of its audience is over the age of 65 — a group that the CDC warns is at elevated risk from the coronavirus — Fox News may exert substantial influence on COVID-19 outcomes,” it reads.
Yet this is an old “fact” that doesn’t appear to vibe with current data, which shows that the median age for CNN and MSNBC viewers isn’t “substantially higher” than that of FNC viewers.
The researchers’ reliance on old data would suggest that their own data and findings are sloppy, if not outright incorrect and in need of immediate peer review. So does the researchers’ “selective, cherry-picked clips” of Hannity, according to an FNC spokesperson.
“The selective cherry-picked clips of Sean Hannity’s coverage used in this study are not only reckless and irresponsible, but down right factually wrong,” the spokesperson said in a statement to the Chicago Tribune.
“As this timeline proves, Hannity has covered Covid-19 since the early days of the story. The ‘study’ almost completely ignores his coverage and repeated, specific warnings and concerns from January 27-February 26 including an early interview with Dr. Fauci in January. This is a reckless disregard for the truth.”
What remains unanswered is why the researchers chose to analyze only Fox News. What about ABC, CBS, NBC, Vox and CNN, where on March 4 host Anderson Cooper told viewers they “should be more concerned about the flu.”
It’s almost as if the study is … biased.
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