On Tuesday, Fox News executives informed staff that two more employees had tested positive for coronavirus, bringing its total infected news employees to six.
In the memo, published by Deadline, Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott and President Jay Wallace stated that, on the advice of medical professionals, they “have personally contacted all individuals who may have been affected and have instructed everyone who worked directly with these two employees to self-quarantine.”
They also said that they “expect to continue receiving reports of more positive tests, given New York is now at the epicenter, and we will be communicating those to all employees affected who are currently working at 1211 [the News Corp. Building on Avenue of the Americas], and not able to work remotely. The vast majority of our workforce is now telecommuting, so they have not had to weather the issues around each positive case.”
The memo lays out the extensive cleaning (started on Feb. 26) and other safety precautions being taken in Fox News offices, and a series of additional precautions now being implemented, including ceasing in-studio bookings (guests to appear remotely via Skype); ceasing all in-studio contributor appearances; and having most video editors in New York and Washington, D.C. now work remotely.
All of the major television news outlets have reported employee cases of coronavirus, and all are maximizing use of virtual interviewing and other functions. All of their companies have cancelled their live upfronts in favor of virtual ad sales presentations this year.
But Fox News is the only leading news organization, to my knowledge, to have hosts who have been actively advocating — along with President Trump — that the broad stay-at-home, social distancing measures implemented already in many cities and states now be dropped in whole or at least on some piecemeal basis.
The false premise of this premature, dangerous argument is that the economic impacts of temporary business shutdowns will somehow do more harm to the population than the rapidly spreading COVID-19 cases and rising death counts.
The argument flies in the face of science and learnings from actual infection and mortality patterns in countries that are in more advanced stages of battling coronavirus outbreaks — and learnings from previous outbreaks of other diseases that have been successfully stemmed through rapid, aggressive social distancing and other measures.
Pandemic and medical experts are unanimous: Broad, stringent social isolation measures are essential to slowing the rapid spread of this virus that is already overwhelming hospitals’ available ICU beds, ventilators and personal safety supplies for staff.
The counterargument was made on Fox News on Sunday, by “The Next Revolution” host Steve Hilton, just hours before President Trump posted his first tweet asserting that “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”
Other Fox News hosts took up the drumbeat, including Laura Ingraham, Brit Hume, and chief political anchor Bret Baier. (Baier "is often dubbed one of the network’s ‘straight news’ anchors," noted The Daily Beast, in reporting on Fox News hosts' messaging about the virus.)
By Monday, during a coronavirus task force briefing, President Trump was indicating that he might well change course at the end of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines calling for 15 days during which all who are sick, in households with someone sick, or in one of the most vulnerable groups should stay home. (And abide by the decisions of local and state officials.) Monday also saw White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow appear on Fox to agree with the president’s contention about the need for Americans to get back to work ASAP.
On Tuesday, Trump declared — in a “town hall” broadcast by Fox News — that he would “love to have the country opened up and raring to go by Easter,” April 12.
As I write this, he’s again indicating that as soon as Day 15 of the “Stop the Spread” initiative — March 30 — he will in all likelihood begin encouraging businesses in at least some areas of the country to start reopening workplaces.
“Any effects of pulling
this curve downward thanks to the two-week national social distancing strategy won’t start showing up until the end of April or beginning of May at the earliest,” writes Wired science reporter Megan Molteni. “Declaring victory now…
would only set the stage for the virus to resurface later this year, when it could interrupt the 2020 census and possibly the next presidential election"...
Citizens will continue to be required to follow state policies, because the president “has no legal power to order people back to work or to dismantle state rules for social distancing,” according to Larry Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University quoted in the piece.
However, Trump could (and apparently intends to) undermine those local efforts by sending conflicting signals that serve to confuse the public “at a time when we need consistent health messaging,” Gostin said.
The same could be argued about Fox News. Will the widest-reaching national TV news presence defy all science and logic, in lockstep with the president, to blast a message that, if heeded to any degree, will almost certainly contribute to the virus’s spread, according to the experts?
Or will Fox Corporation management — who I must assume have decent intentions — demonstrate wisdom, leadership, civic responsibility and ethics by suspending political partisanship long enough to help save millions of people — and at the same time help give the economy some hope of recovering in a year or two, rather than dragging out the outbreak and its economic impacts over multiple years?
“In the longer term, we could ease back on physical distancing, sending younger, healthier people back into the workforce,” Gostin told Molteni. “But we have to wait until we have a better control over the epidemic.”
Just think how much good Fox could do if it chose to convey that crucial, true message rather than try to encourage people to risk their own lives and others’ through senseless, dangerous behavior.
Even if we posit that Fox management doesn’t control or heavily influence the direction of its hosts’ stated opinions, what about making a general news division effort to balance the misguided opinions with interviews with actual pandemic and medical experts, or reporters willing to convey their information?
As The Daily Beast pointed out, one step in that direction was on Monday, when Fox Business Network correspondent Charles Gasparino “blasted Trump for wanting to end [distancing] restrictions to boost the economy, noting that the president ‘played down’ the threat of the virus earlier this year. Such dismissiveness, Gasparino said, ‘prevented appropriate response’ months ago, and now the administration will ‘pay the price.’”
Such candor would be welcome as a balance more often included in mainstream evening Fox News shows.
Call me naïve for making this suggestion/plea, but if there was ever a time for all of us to put aside political partisanship to save our citizens and our economy, this is it. And I don’t doubt that many, probably most, Fox News employees are rooting (at least in their own minds) for their organization to do the right thing.