Surgeon general's advisory warns misinformation about COVID is 'urgent threat' to US

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Fox News has spread misinformation about COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned Thursday in the first Surgeon General's Advisory issued by the Biden administration that misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic is a "serious threat to public health."

Murthy said in a press release announcing the advisory:

Health misinformation is an urgent threat to public health. It can cause confusion, sow mistrust, and undermine public health efforts, including our ongoing work to end the COVID-19 pandemic. As Surgeon General, my job is to help people stay safe and healthy, and without limiting the spread of health misinformation, American lives are at risk. From the tech and social media companies who must do more to address the spread on their platforms, to all of us identifying and avoiding sharing misinformation, tackling this challenge will require an all-of-society approach, but it is critical for the long-term health of our nation.

The advisory warns:

Misinformation has caused confusion and led people to decline COVID-19 vaccines, reject public health measures such as masking and physical distancing, and use unproven treatments. For example, a recent study showed that even brief exposure to COVID-19 vaccine misinformation made people less likely to want a COVID-19 vaccine. Misinformation has also led to harassment of and violence against public health workers, health professionals, airline staff, and other frontline workers tasked with communicating evolving public health measures.

It notes the speed with which bad information can be spread over social media, and says, "Social media feeds, blogs, forums, and group chats allow people to follow a range of people, news outlets, and official sources. But not every post on social media can be considered reliable."

Misinformation reported by Fox News is among the lies about the coronavirus spread through social media accounts.

Initially the network downplayed the virus, arguing in March 2020 that it was no worse than the flu while falsely alleging that Democrats and the media were emphasizing it to hurt then-President Donald Trump's reelection campaign.

Fox host Sean Hannity said on March 9, 2020, that the virus was being used to "bludgeon Trump with this new hoax" and complained, "They're scaring the living hell out of people."

As the death toll began to climb into the hundreds of thousands, Fox attacked health experts who were urging the Trump administration to roll out more testing for the virus.

"Do you really need that many tests given the fact that so many people have already been exposed to it?" asked "Fox & Friends" host Steve Doocy on April 21, 2020.

Echoing Trump, Fox News hosts relentlessly promoted the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus, even as experts noted that it was ineffective against it and could be dangerous for the public to use.

"There are stories of people saying that they've had this Lazarus effect by using this drug," Fox host Dana Perino said on April 6, 2020, a phrasing echoed by host Laura Ingraham as well.

As the death toll reached over 100,000 in May 2020, Fox downplayed the milestone and hardly mentioned it.

Perhaps no Fox News host has spread more COVID-related misinformation and conspiracy theories than Tucker Carlson, who hosts the highest-rated show on the network.

Carlson promoted the idea that vaccines were dangerous as early as May 2020, asking, "Does the government still have a right to endanger you by forcing you to take it?" In December 2020, Carlson said, "It's so safe, they have to threaten you to take it. If they do that, that could lead to a legitimate crisis."

In a report released in May 2021, Media Matters for America noted that after the Biden administration took office in January and began ramping up vaccine production, Carlson aired at least 28 segments on his show promoting disinformation about the medicine.

"With the platform that Carlson has and the kind of rhetoric he pushes, he has emerged as one of the network's top public health menaces," the report said.

Even as the number of people vaccinated has increased and new infections are seen overwhelmingly in those who are not vaccinated, Fox has continued to promote public health falsehoods.

On July 6, host Mark Steyn downplayed the danger of COVID variants and attacked the World Health Organization for warning the public about them, saying, "We are in the land of lame sequels here, and the COVID franchise is exhausted."

The network has also attacked vaccine outreach. Host Jeanine Pirro argued on July 12 that "if you put the dots together," door-to-door outreach to advise people of vaccine availability was really "about confiscating your gun."

The network's medical contributor, Dr. Nicole Saphier, implied on July 7 that such efforts at outreach are about "the freedom to choose vaccination and then require them as well and say we're going to be sending government officials." She said, "This is a freedom of choice, and that is what is very important. It goes to the core of our country."

The misinformation about COVID-19 vaccinations has been amplified by Republican elected officials, who repeat them in appearances on the network and in their own social media posts.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) complained about "indiscriminate vaccination," while Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) compared vaccine volunteers to Nazis, as did Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO).

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.