Does Fox News, which downplayed the threat posed from COVID-19, bear any responsibility for the deaths of 100K Americans who perished from the disease? An intriguing study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (Cambridge, MA) released May 26 provides grist for that argument.
Conducted by researchers at Columbia University, University of Chicago and SafeGraph, a geospatial company, it found that exposure to Fox News during the early stages of the pandemic substantially lowered compliance with social distancing regulations.
The research shows that a one percent increase in Fox News viewership reduced adherence to stay-at-home guidelines by about nine percent.
The analysis was based on data from SafeGraph social distancing data compiled from GPS pings from 45M mobile devices measured in conjunction with Fox News viewership rates.
The researchers make it clear they "do not attempt to attribute the Fox News effects to health outcomes, namely cases and deaths."
They do point out that after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 an international public health emergency on Jan. 30, Fox News played down the potential risk throughout March as the virus began to spread in the US and Americans were forming beliefs about the severity of the threat.
Fox host Laura Ingraham accused Democrats of "weaponizing fear" and called them the "pandemic party"
Sean Hannity urged viewers to be more concerned about gun violence in Chicago than COVID-19. He offered a sympathetic platform to president Trump, who told him on Feb. 2: "We pretty much shut it [COVID-19] down coming in from China."
The study did not test the exact mechanism through which Fox News viewership persuades individuals against complying with social distancing.
The authors argue that the findings are likely the result of contrarian and misleading broadcasts made in early March regarding the effectiveness of social distancing.
"Given that these persuasive impacts arise in spite of highly-publicized social distancing recommendations by health experts, these findings are indicative of the 'advice discounting' phenomenon through which media outlets override expert opinions," they said.
The NBER study is merely a working working paper that was not peer reviewed.
There's has been recent coverage of social distancing on FOX News Channel’s news and opinion programs, including America’s Newsroom, Hannity, Cavuto, Bill Hemmer Reports and FOX & Friends, a Fox News spokesperson told O'Dwyer's.
FOX News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel told America's Newroom co-anchor Ed Henry he is “deeply disturbed” by images of partiers at Lake of the Ozarks and called on the Missouri Memorial Day weekend partiers to self-quarantine after not social distancing.
Hannity scolded the Ozark partygoers, saying their failure to self-distance "could be a disaster" for vulnerable Americans.