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Fox News and the Wages of Epistemic Closure

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As we have been discussing a great deal recently, Donald Trump and his lackeys and collaborators spent the critical early stages of the pandemic focused on trying to win daily news cycles while ignoring not merely the interests of the country but their own political interests. One might have thought that the most powerful Republican propaganda network — whose core audience consists of people who are particularly vulnerable to the virus — would have taken a longer time horizon and tried to change course. But a lot of people will get sick and die because this didn’t happen:

The chief executive of Fox News, Suzanne Scott, reacted swiftly to the threat of the coronavirus in late February: She ordered the bright, open new offices disinfected, installed hand sanitizer stations around the office and boldly canceled the company’s major ad sales event.

But her influence doesn’t extend to the most important part of Fox News: its programming in prime time.

There, for two crucial weeks in late February and early March, powerful Fox hosts talked about the “real” story of the coronavirus: It was a Democratic- and media-led plot against President Donald J. Trump. Hosts and guests, speaking to Fox’s predominately elderly audience, repeatedly played down the threat of what would soon become a deadly pandemic.

The person who could have stopped the flow of misinformation was Ms. Scott’s boss, Lachlan Murdoch, the chief executive of the Fox Corporation. But he wasn’t paying much attention. The 48-year-old heir to his family’s media fortune was focused instead on buying a streaming company called Tubi for $440 million, a person who has spoken to him said. The acquisition would drive “long-term growth,” he proudly announced in a news release on March 17.

Tucker at least seemed to grasp that a million dead people and 30% unemployment aren’t things that can quickly be spun away, but the rest of the primetime lineup shared Trump’s denial of reality. They have plenty of blood on their hands over this.

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