Fox News is facing intense scrutiny for its initial coverage of the coronavirus pandemic and a lawsuit filed in Washington is asking a state court to bar the network from sharing false information about the pandemic.
The top-rated network was sued Thursday by the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics. TheWrap has reviewed the ten-page document, in which Fox News Corp., owner Rupert Murdoch, AT&T TV and Comcast were named as defendants.
The organization is seeking an injunction to prevent Fox News from “interfering with reasonable and necessary measures to contain the virus by publishing further false and deceptive content.” Fox News, the suit says, violates the Consumer Protection Act, which ” declares unlawful and prohibits deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce.”
Responding to Thursday’s lawsuit, general counsel for Fox News Media Lily Fu Claffee said, “Wrong on the facts, frivolous on the law. We will defend vigorously and seek sanctions as appropriate.”
In the last month, Fox News’ on-air talent has been criticized for what they have shared about the virus, both on-air and through their social media accounts. (At the time of this article’s publication, #FoxNewsLiedAsPeopleDied is a trending hashtag on Twitter.)
Much of the criticism stems from the New York Times’ opinion section, which has published some scathing pieces recently that attack Fox News’ coverage and what the authors say are the effects of that coverage. Kara Swisher, the veteran tech journalist who co-founded the site ReCode, wrote in an op-ed this week that she blamed Fox News for her aging mother’s initial lack of concern about the coronavirus pandemic.
Swisher wrote that her mother’s “primary source of news” is Fox News, and the older woman initially did not take the coronavirus threat seriously because of what she watched.
“But she was not concerned — and it was clear why. … In those days she was telling me that the COVID-19 threat was overblown by the mainstream news media (note, her daughter is in the media). She told me that it wasn’t going to be that big a deal. She told me that it was just like the flu,” Swisher wrote of her mother, who continued to go out to eat with friends for some time and went as far as to threaten to block Swisher’s number if she kept talking about the seriousness of the pandemic.
That characterization earned Swisher a two-day fight with Fox News’ ratings behemoth and primetime host Sean Hannity.
“You got one far-left media mob maniac over at ‘The New York Times’ using the virus to attack her least favorite network, oh, and yours truly,” Hannity said during his show Wednesday. “Yes, she’s accusing Fox News of putting her mother and the elderly people at risk.”
“In order to help the media mob out, we put it all together for them [in a timeline] so they can’t plead ignorance when I think about suing them,” said Hannity, who had already unleashed a series of tweets about Fisher earlier in the day. He referenced his Jan. 27 interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, a now-recognizable figure in the fight against the virus, and noted the conversation took place “six days after the first confirmed case of the United States.”
In a different New York Times piece, writer-at-large Charlie Warzel pointed not necessarily to Fox News hosts’ on-air coverage but their online behavior. He described a Medium post by Aaron Ginn, a Silicon Valley product manager and “growth hacker,” that argued the true severity of the virus. Fox News’ Brit Hume tweeted a link to the post on March 21 to his over one million followers. By the next day, eight of his Fox colleagues had also shared the post, including Bret Baier, Laura Ingraham and Sebastian Gorka, who together have over five million followers. (Baier did tweet the Medium article, but also asked his followers to read a thread of information on the site that offered a “strong counter-argument to the medium article.”) Medium later removed Ginn’s post.
“Within hours, the blog post was amplified across conservative media,” Warzel wrote.
Some Fox News Media opinion hosts have been dismissive of the dangers of the coronavirus, especially in the virus’ earlier days in America. Former Fox Business host Trish Regan, for instance, described it as another effort to impeach President Donald Trump. She and her network parted ways at the end of March.
Fox News — which Thursday gave $1 million to Feeding America in a joint donation with Facebook designed to ease the strain of the pandemic — began implementing work-from-home strategies for employees in mid-March, ramping up efforts to keep employees home as the virus spread. Hosts who still appeared in the studio started sitting six feet apart and the tone of coverage started to change as Fox News added two additional doctors to its roster of contributors.
Fox News sent out an internal memo Friday stating that the earliest date staffers could expect to be back in their offices is May 4.