covid and hannity
© Reuters / Social Media / Leah Millis
BFFs, according to WaPo
Several US studies have blamed conservative media for high Covid-19 mortality, claiming pundits like Sean Hannity misled their viewers about the virus. But another study says liberals who also ignored official advice saved lives.

Seemingly determined to root out all "wrongthink" regarding the pandemic that has killed over 124,000 Americans so far, the Washington Post looked over a handful of recent academic papers analyzing media coverage of the outbreak and found - surprise! - that listening to Fox News' Sean Hannity shortens American lifespans.

"The end result, according to one of the studies, is that infection and mortality rates are higher in places where one pundit who initially downplayed the severity of the pandemic - Fox News's Sean Hannity - reaches the largest audiences," the outlet revealed in its pearl-clutching writeup on Thursday, specifically referring to a University of Chicago study published earlier this month.

That study's findings weren't quite the slam-dunk WaPo suggested, however. Explaining "one standard deviation increase in relative viewership of Hannity relative to [fellow Fox News host] Tucker Carlson Tonight" translated to "approximately 32 percent more Covid-19 cases on March 14 and approximately 23 percent more Covid-19 deaths on March 28," researchers nevertheless acknowledged that those differences had faded past March, supposedly because "the two hosts' coverage had largely converged by then." Putting aside that WaPo and its ilk consider Carlson to be as "far right" as Hannity, such results prove next to nothing about the risk of one media diet over another.

Published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, another paper claimed Fox News viewers were an average of 11.9 percent more likely to break stay-at-home rules during March and April, tracing these behaviors to the messaging received from the network and not, say, to basic survival needs like grocery shopping and work. And a third, printed in the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, was even less sanguine, merely showing that people who consumed mainstream media tended to believe "accurate information about [Covid-19's] lethality" - i.e. the information presented by mainstream liberal media - while people who watched Fox News and other conservative outlets tended to believe "conspiracy theories" about the virus.

However, one of the pieces of harmful "misinformation" they highlighted - a Fox News medical contributor's claim that the novel coronavirus "should be compared to the flu" because "at worst, worst-case scenario it could be the flu" - was echoed by none other than Trump's coronavirus czar Dr. Anthony Fauci in a February paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Fauci, darling of the mainstream media, wrote that "the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza" rather than a high-fatality virus like SARS. And as more and more asymptomatic people test positive for the virus, that "misinformation" looks a lot closer to the truth than the catastrophic numbers that triggered lockdowns worldwide months ago.

Even as WaPo struggled to lump the researchers' conclusions together in a scathing indictment of Covid-19 heresy - the "infodemic" the World Health Organization warned against back in February, even calling for a "vaccine against misinformation" - none of the papers proved correlation rose to the level of causation (i.e. that Americans behaved recklessly because they watched Hannity, or even that Americans' reckless behavior caused them to contract Covid-19). But why let that get in the way of a good narrative? "See what happens when you stray from the shining path of neoliberal centrism?" the writeup seemed to gloat.

Not mentioned in WaPo's paean to groupthink was another paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, this one published last week. Those researchers found that the Black Lives Matter protests that brought social distancing and lockdowns to a noisy end at the end of last month did not have the "broad negative public health consequences" some had predicted, not because (as some so-called health professionals had declared) racism was a bigger public health crisis than Covid-19, but because most people were actually more likely to stay at home in order to avoid the unruly demonstrations.

Popular Science picked up where WaPo left off, however, reframing the paper's conclusions in a Thursday tweet that was roundly ratioed: "Covid-19 infection rates actually decreased in places that experienced BlackLivesMatter protests." Not so the nation as a whole - cases were up a record 40,000 on Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University.