The Fox Effect

At around midnight Sunday night, Trump tweeted “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!” Mr. Trump was directly channeling the argument Steve Hilton, a Fox News talking head, had made a little earlier in the evening. (Hilton presents the crux of his argument at 6:28 in the Fox News video you can watch at that link.)

I watched the video to verify the account of it presented here and copied belowfrom the Huffington Post (the quoted material is all in italics):

Hilton played a clip of Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, saying he was fine if people think the response to the virus was an overreaction.

Well, that’s easy for him to say,” Hilton said. “He’ll still have a job at the end of this, whatever happens.”

Hilton added: 

“Our ruling class and their TV mouthpieces whipping up fear over this virus, they can afford an indefinite shutdown. Working Americans can’t, they’ll be crushed by it. You know that famous phrase, ‘The cure is worse than the disease?’ That is exactly the territory we are hurtling towards.”

Hilton calculated that an economic shutdown in response to the virus would lead to a recession that could kill 1 million Americans. 

“Poverty kills. Despair kills. This shutdown is deadly,” Hilton said. He then urged Trump to reassess the plan within 15 days. After that, it would be time to stop the shutdown while keeping in place bans on large gatherings and measures to protect the elderly.

After Trump’s tweet channelling Steve Hilton, Fox Nation’s “Deep Dive” (that’s a paid subscription website) on Monday added fuel by featuring Dr. Marc Siegel, a talking head on Fox since 2008 (Is he on the payroll primarily because his views align with the network bias?). According to Dr. Siegel, “”About three or four weeks from now, we’re going to back off of these draconian measures because we won’t be able to stay together as a society if we don’t” You can read the coverage of the Siegel appearance here. Note that Dr. Siegel, an internist, is using his M.D. degree to justify his opinions of sociology and economics, not medicine.

Monday evening on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick added fuel by offering to risk his own life as an example of a supposedly selfless senior citizen (he’s 69):

“No one reached out to me and said, as a senior citizen, ‘Are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in … I just think there’s lots of grandparents out there in this country like me — I have six grandchildren — that what we all care about and what we love more than anything are those children. I want to live smart and see through this. But I don’t want the whole country to be sacrificed and that’s what I see.”

He added that it “..doesn’t make me noble or brave or anything like that… what we all care about and what we love more than anything are those children.” Patrick said that he will “do everything I can to live” and that if he gets sick, he will seek medical help. He went on to echo Trump’s argument that the coronavirus mortality rate in the United States — so far — is not as alarming as it is in other countries. (Just wait, of course, we’re early and Covid-19 takes a week or two to kill most of its victims.)

The trouble is that Mr. Patrick, who rose to the Lt. governorship of Texas from a career as a conservative talk show host after having gone bankrupt in business, is recommending a course of action that endangers not just his own life and those of the supposedly selfless seniors he claims to represent, but also the lives of the healthcare workers from whom he and others vow to seek help if they fall ill. All of these brainless talking heads conveniently ignore the fact that as of March 19th in the U.S. 38% of the 508 patients hospitalized for Corvid-19 were between the ages of 20 and 54. As of March 19, nine of these 20-54 year olds had died–but this is very, very early in what is likely to be a tidal wave of deaths among many age 20 and up. (As of March 19 there were no deaths or hospitalizations in the U.S. of people under age 20 from Corvid-19.)

So what is going on here? It looks like a Wall Street Journal opinion piece got the ball rolling about a week ago. Steve Hilton’s rant on Fox last Sunday, March 22, (detailed above) was channeled by Trump in his tweet later that evening. Dr. Siegel and then Dan Patrick on two other Fox programs on Monday, the next day, noting that Trump was paying attention, pumped up Trump’s faith that the economy should take precedence over people’s lives.

Trump has spent his life stepping on other people in pursuit of money (Trump University). He despises scientists (climate change is a “Chinese hoax”). He is convinced of his native intelligence and overall superiority (stable genius). His worst nightmare is being upstaged (reports on Tuesday suggest Dr. Fauci is losing favor with Trump). Trump desperately wants to be seen as in control–at center stage making the big decisions. Tumult and controversy are at the center of his character.

Fox News is playing to Trump’s confirmation bias. Fox News is calling the shots for our emotionally wobbly and fact-challenged president. If Trump declares, “Go back to work!” will the country follow–or repudiate him?

Or, as a friend suggested (while simultaneously admitting it sounds like a conspiracy theory), is this all an elaborate scheme to goose the stock market in the hope of playing the jump for profit. After all, what the Trump family is doing with the Trump money remains opaque to the electorate.

Meanwhile, people are dying all over the world while these fools propose sacrificing working Americans and thousands of health care workers on the alter of money.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. As I keep reading on the Fox News/Donald Trump circular confirmation bias amplifier I find that others are writing of the same thing. Below are links to two articles I consider outstanding:

Heather Cox Richardson:

Justin Baragona of The Daily Beast provides a masterful summary of the Fox News amplifiers: