Over the weekend, the New York Times published a story about the Coronavirus-caused death of a bar owner from New York City. The man was a conservative, a Fox News viewer who was distrustful of the mainstream media, and was beloved by his patrons and wider community. The piece is filled with texture, but its inescapable underlying theme and tone is, 'this Trumpy right-winger's ideology caused his death.' That's certainly how many 'blue checkmarks' on social media chose to market it, almost as a weird form of vengeance porn. They wouldn't quite say that he deserved to die -- although plenty of online commenters would -- but with just a glimmer of satisfaction, they shared the story as a means of attacking politicians and institutions that they've loathed for years. See, we were right all along, and now a man is dead:
“He watched Fox, and believed it was under control ... he didn’t think that he could have it, because he wasn’t 100 percent confident that it was a thing.” https://t.co/DgWqb8LyXV— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 19, 2020
He trusted Fox and Trump. They told him to dismiss the Democrats' new hoax. He did. Now a beloved fixture of his Bay Ridge neighborhood is gone. A poignant obituary. https://t.co/MkKJv5Or8O— David Frum (@davidfrum) April 19, 2020
“He watched Fox, and believed it was under control," said the daughter of a beloved NYC bar owner who went on a cruise in March, contracted coronavirus, and died. https://t.co/bfEJUngLAU— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) April 18, 2020
"Killed by Fox News." This story was shared far and wide, offering liberals the irresistible chance to gravely nod along to its premise -- that this man was killed by his ideological priors -- while affirming their own ideological priors. It's smug condescension, wrapped in faux sympathy and concern. It's also the latest installment of a concerted effort among some in the media, especially at CNN and the Times, to exploit the pandemic as an opportunity to batter and assail Fox (where I work), an outlet they've despised and resented for years, largely for political and ideological reasons. One might say that using the occasion of a man's death to write a hit piece on his preferred political and media figures is, well, creepily ghoulish. But doing so while relying on sleight-of-hand and supposition is downright disgraceful. Reporter Ginia Bellafonte briefly acknowledges some inconveniences to the narrative, but doesn't allow them to derail the Larger Point, which she correctly identified as catnip for her audience:
On March 1, Joe Joyce and his wife, Jane, set sail for Spain on a cruise, flying first to Florida...He didn’t see the problem. “He watched Fox, and believed it was under control,’’ Kristen told me. Early in March Sean Hannity went on air proclaiming that he didn’t like the way that the American people were getting scared “unnecessarily.’’ He saw it all, he said, “as like, let’s bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.” Eventually, Fox changed course and took the virus more seriously, but the Joyces were long gone by then. A spokeswoman for Fox News said that Mr. Hannity made statements taking the spread of coronavirus seriously early on, and that his comment about the public being scared by the coverage happened after the Joyces had left on their cruise...It is possible, of course, that Joe Joyce did not contract the coronavirus on a trip to Spain, where almost 20,000 have died from complications related to it.
Mr. Joyce's cruise left on on March 1st. The Hannity quote mentioned on the story was uttered more than a week later. And then there's this important point:
The man left on the cruise March 1. The Hannity quote the article uses to pin the death on him is March 9. The man returned March 14 & went to work at his bar March 15 (NYC hadn't closed them yet). He was hospitalized March 27 & tragically passed April 9.https://t.co/tj6B9aTiaG— JERRY DUNLEAVY (@JerryDunleavy) April 19, 2020
New York City was and is America's hottest virus hotspot, and it's not even close. Bars, astoundingly, were still open when Joyce returned to the city, two weeks after his departure -- reflecting the lateness, recklessness and cluelessness that characterized the response of the city's left-wing mayor and other top officials. In other words, the damning quote meant to pin this tragedy on Fox didn't match the timeline of events, and we don't even know if the deceased contracted the disease on his journey, or back at home. Also let's face it: Viewers and readers were undoubtedly subjected a wide array Coronavirus comments and hot takes from multiple media outlets, including Fox, that are cringeworthy in retrospect, or were even problematic at the time. Read this. Then watch this:
Which brings us to this late February tweet from...Ginia Bellafonte, the very Times correspondent who wrote the story about Mr. Joyce:
Wow.— (((AG))) (@AGHamilton29) April 19, 2020
So NYT printed a piece that blamed Fox News for the COVID-19 death of a NY bar owner who went on a cruise on 3/1 based on a Hannity quote downplaying the virus on 3/8. Meanwhile, the author of that piece, @GiniaNYT, was downplaying it on 2/27.
(h/t @ComfortablySmug) pic.twitter.com/wGJBpnoQ9F
It is literally impossible that Hannity's quote informed Joyce's decision to move forward with his trip, which was made days prior to that particular show airing. But it is at least conceivably possible (albeit unlikely) that a New York Times reporter's tweet "fundamentally" rejecting Coronavirus "panic," published before the cruise set sail could have reinforced Joyce's judgment that the voyage would be safe. And again, the voyage might have been safe, since we don't actually know whether Joyce contracted the virus on the ship, in Spain, or in Brooklyn. Between the glaring sequencing problem, the murkiness of how this man got the disease, and the rank hypocrisy of the reporter involved, this is a shameful and embarrassing journalistic episode.
I'll leave you with this, on a personal note: I consider myself to be a pretty prudent and careful person. I follow the news closely, and have been interviewing medical experts about the virus on my radio program for weeks. All of that notwithstanding, I made the decision to attend my best friend's overseas wedding on March 7th, meaning I left the country five days after Joyce did. By that point, people were wiping down their armrests and tray tables on the plane, and we all washed our hands frequently on the trip -- but it is simply fiction that the risks and devastating trajectory of Coronavirus in the United States were obvious in early March. They were not. So I'll repeat: Writing a story that ties a man's death to a politician or news outlet he enjoyed will strike many people as an unseemly, unfair and morbid 'gotcha.' Writing that story without evidence to establish the links in the narrative chain is simply disgraceful.
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