Heavy criticism has been thrown toward Fox News by other news outlets recently for their early coverage of COVID-19, also known as the Wuhan coronavirus or Chinese virus. This was exemplified with The Washington Post and others tweeting out how some on the network had downplayed the virus as it was beginning to spread across the world.
The Fox News from last week would have mocked and ridiculed the Fox News coverage from today. Tectonic shift in how the network is covering the virus. The reality of the situation is no longer possible to ignore, dismiss, and spin. https://t.co/Rf4ci4lZnH— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) March 16, 2020
Fox News and pro-Trump media did everything they could for weeks to downplay the threat of coronavirus https://t.co/EWsuPWJBCR— Media Matters (@mmfa) March 18, 2020
Indeed, statements were made by some on Fox News early on that downplayed the new emerging disease, but what is lacking in the reports and tweets is that the whole media ecosystem, including the Post, had told their respective audiences not to worry about the Wuhan coronavirus. In other words, they are just as guilty of what they are accusing Fox News of doing.
Coronavirus, with zero American fatalities, is dominating headlines, while the flu has killed dozens of U.S. kids this season—including 11-year-old Luca, a true “Giver of Light.” https://t.co/134gHcl362— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) February 6, 2020
Get a grippe, America. The flu is a much bigger threat than coronavirus, for now. https://t.co/71OsdttcXT— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) February 1, 2020
6. The experts I've spoke to say China has learned its lessons from SARS and they think it's highly unlikely that they would engineer a huge coverup like they did the last time. The political costs of that were high. It led to the sacking of the health minister.— Sui-Lee Wee ??? (@suilee) January 7, 2020
"And Sanjay, you were telling us last hour there's an important context we need to keep this in. And that is that the flu is more deadly," CNN's Alisyn Camerota noted to Dr. Sanjay Gupta in late January.
"Yeah. I mean, you know, this is one of the ironies that I think always comes up with this. Take a look at the numbers. This is the U.S. flu season this season alone. All right? There's already been 8,200 deaths. 15 million cases, United States alone, and compare that to worldwide numbers with regard to coronavirus," Gupta said. "Look, I don't think anyone wants to minimize what is happening with coronavirus, and I think the concern is always could this start to spiral? Could the virus mutate more in a way that makes it more transmissible and more lethal? Luckily it doesn't seem like that's going to happen. But, you know, that's why people are so frightened, I think, of things like a new virus like this."
It was not the last time Dr. Gupta had noted the much higher number of influenza cases the United States already had compared to the coronavirus.
What is unfair about the criticisms is how the few commentators were not representative of Fox News' early coverage of the Wuhan coronavirus.
- In a different story from the Post, they noted how Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto brought up the Wuhan coronavirus in an interview with an emergency-room physician on January 20, adding, "To be sure, much of the early reporting about the virus was tentative and sometimes inaccurate, as is often the case with breaking news events. The authorities involved often don't have a full understanding yet of what's unfolding, leaving the journalists who are reporting on them equally in the dark."
- Host Lou Dobbs interviewed the much-familiar Dr. Anthony Fauci on January 21, eight days before joining the White House's coronavirus task force.
- Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo asked Trump about the Wuhan coronavirus while attending the Davos World Economic Forum on January 22.
- As noted by the Post, host Tucker Carlson was one of the primetime hosts who said the government should be taking the threat of the virus seriously as early as January 28.
- "The Five" co-host Greg Gutfeld gave an impassioned speech about how dangerous the Wuhan coronavirus could get on January 28.
It is important to keep in mind what the large news cycles were when the media was just starting to report on the new virus. December was all about Democrats in the House impeaching President Trump. Early January was dominated with the news coming out of the Middle East, with it appearing that the U.S. and Iran were on a collision course to full-scale war. Late January and early February were saturated with the impeachment trial and acquittal of President Trump.
It was not until the end of February that the newsroom fully began to realize the scope of the disease, and that was because the authoritarian Chinese government took drastic measures to stop news of its slow and inept response to COVID-19 from reaching the outside world until it was too late. By then, it had reached America and was spreading within. The Chinese government also ordered scientists working on the virus to stop their tests and destroy their samples in December.
What's worse is the World Health Organization, which was slow to call the worldwide outbreaks an epidemic and then a pandemic, downplayed the virus' transmissible rate.
Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China????. pic.twitter.com/Fnl5P877VG— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) January 14, 2020
As usual, the members of the mainstream media are on the offensive without providing full context. Maybe they are trying to deflect from their previous poor reporting or to distract from the fact they had called COVID-19 the "Wuhan coronavirus." Fox News has shifted to 24/7 coverage of the pandemic, which began on March 16. To boot, the network is currently the only cable news channel that does not require a cable login to be able to stream the channel on its website.