Viewers “have been regularly subjected to misinformation.”
In a letter signed by over 70 journalism professors, journalists, and other academics, Fox News stands accused of being a “danger to public health” due to its dissemination of “misinformation” about the coronavirus.
Led by Columbia journalism and sociology professor Todd Gitlin, The Hill reports the signatories claim “viewers of Fox News, including the president of the United States, have been regularly subjected to misinformation relayed by the network—false statements downplaying the prevalence of COVID-19 and its harms.”
The letter notes FNC made “casual recommendations of untested drugs,” likely an allusion to hydroxychloroquine, which has shown promise in battling the coronavirus. After President Trump touted the potential of the drug, an Arizona man ingested some fish tank cleaner — because hydroxychloroquine was listed as one of its ingredients. Ironically (and naturally), the mainstream media quickly linked the man’s stupidity to the president’s comments.
The academics worry Fox News’s popularity adds to the magnitude of the problem: Older Americans make up the largest segment of FNC’s audience, and they’re also the most vulnerable to the virus. The signatories also are concerned that some 79 percent of FNC viewers believe “the media had overstated the potency of the virus.”
Now, why would that be?
Fox News does not clearly distinguish between the authority that should accrue to trained experts, on the one hand, and the authority viewers grant to pundits and politicians for reasons of ideological loyalty. There is a tendency to accept (or reject) them all indiscriminately, for after all, they are talking heads who appear on Fox News, a trusted source of news. When the statements of knowledgeable experts are surrounded by false claims made by pundits and politicians, including President Trump — claims that are not rebutted by knowledgeable people in real time — the overall effect is to mislead a vulnerable public about risks and harms.
A complete list of letter signatories is here.
According to his website, Professor Gitlin is a former president of Students for a Democratic Society whose books include “The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left” and “Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street.”
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