The damage done by America’s loss of truly mass media–and especially the loss of trusted local newspapers–isn’t confined to government and civil society. Health officials are now reporting that people who get their “information” from rightwing media sources like Sinclair and Fox are putting themselves at far greater risk from Covid-19.
Sinclair Broadcast Group is less well-known than Fox, but it operates almost 200 television stations. It has consistently downplayed the severity of the pandemic, and recently published an interview with a conspiracy theorist claiming that Dr. Fauci “created the coronavirus using cells.”
Meanwhile, Fox News pundits continue to question the seriousness of the virus, and to promote untested “cures” touted by Trump and other non-experts.
It isn’t just Sinclair and Fox. Earlier this week, Trump and Don Junior both retweeted a video they evidently got from Breitbart, in which a group of “doctors” said that masks were unnecessary and that Trump’s favorite drug– hydroxychloroquine–cured the virus. (Real medical experts say hydroxychloroquine is useless against Covid and masks are essential.)
One of the “doctors” quoted by Trump is Stella Immanuel, the spiritual leader of Fire Power Ministries, which the Washington Post calls “a pronouncedly non-orthodox church.”
Endometriosis and other potentially dangerous gynecological conditions are the residue of sexual intercourse with demons, Immanuel teaches. These demons, known as “spirit husbands” and “spirit wives” (you might prefer their pet names: Incubus and Succubus) once walked the Earth in physical form. After they drowned in Noah’s flood, however, they carried on only in non-corporeal form. They visit humans in sexy dreams, which aren’t dreams after all but spirit spouses making a booty call.
According to Immanuel, the demons are responsible for a wide variety of problems, including male impotence, most financial troubles and marital discord.
So who are you going to believe? That downer Fauci, or “Doctor” Immanuel?
There are obviously a number of reasons why the U.S. has fallen so far behind other rich countries in containing the virus. The number one reason, of course, is Donald Trump, and the lack of anything approaching a thoughtful, co-ordinated national response managed by medical professionals who actually know what they are doing. Another is the significant minority of our population who justify selfish (and self-destructive) behavior by braying about “freedom.”
But a not-insignificant cause of our failure to contain the virus is the prevalence of right-wing media sources unconstrained by journalistic ethics or professionalism. Fox and Sinclair are the most pervasive, but millions of Americans also read–and believe–sources like Infowars and Breitbart.
Crazy people have always been with us, but the Internet and social media have dramatically amplified their reach. Radical news media–left and right–have always been around, but they have rarely exerted the influence of Fox and Sinclair.
As Max Strasser put it in the introduction to a recent New York Times newsletter (no URL),
Canada, Japan and much of Europe have no equivalent to Sinclair — whose local newscasts reach about 40 percent of Americans — or Fox News. Germany and France have widely read blogs that promote conspiracy theories. “But none of them have the reach and the funding of Fox or Sinclair,” Monika Pronczuk, a Times reporter based in Europe, told me.
Fox is particularly important, because it has also influenced President Trump’s response to the virus, which has been slower and less consistent than that of many other world leaders. “Trump repeatedly failed to act to tame the spread, even though that would have helped him politically,” The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has written.
What we are experiencing is a perfect storm: a mentally-ill President receptive to conspiracies peddled by cynical–and profitable– propaganda mills, with few if any local newspapers remaining that could provide non-political, trustworthy information alerting citizens to the dangers of misinformation–or explain that the President is quoting a “doctor” who believes that alien DNA is used in many therapeutic drugs and that government scientists are developing a vaccine to prevent religious faith.