From Jerry Falwell Jr. to Dr. Drew: 5 Coronavirus Doubters

From Jerry Falwell Jr. to Dr. Drew: 5 Coronavirus Doubters

Misinformation about the coronavirus continues to circulate across swaths of the American media — on popular podcasts, in blog posts, in online videos and on prime-time cable news shows — as recently as this week.

Some of the disseminators are entertainers. Others are medical doctors. Some are conservatives who insist the virus is being hyped for political purposes. One is a comedian with no medical training who has raised doubts about vaccinating children.

Even as President Trump and the federal government’s top public health officials warn that the virus is not something to be taken lightly — and the authorities reported more coronavirus deaths in the United States on Wednesday — these commentators make misleading comments, cherry-pick facts and go so far as to claim that the virus could be a hoax or a North Korean plot.

Dr. Drew Pinsky, the celebrity addiction specialist whose HLN cable news show was canceled after he speculated in 2016 that Hillary Clinton might be seriously ill, has condoned on his current web program flouting the directives of public health officials who are urging Americans not to go about their business as usual.

Dr. Pinsky has also handed over his program to the comedian Rob Schneider, a former “Saturday Night Live” performer, who says the coronavirus crackdowns are nothing more than political stunts by elected officials seeking the spotlight.

Mr. Schneider, who has also opposed mandatory vaccines for children, appeared Monday on Dr. Pinsky’s program and talked about going out to dinner in defiance of the new guidelines.

“This is not affecting people who are healthy,” Mr. Schneider said, falsely.

Dr. Pinsky agreed, saying sick people should stay home, but “everyone else goes about their business.”

Sean Hannity, the host of the most-watched program on cable news, has used his platform to play down the seriousness of the coronavirus. Mr. Hannity, who reaches close to four million people each weeknight on Fox News and about 15 million each week on his syndicated radio show, describes his approach as “facts without fear,” presenting himself to his audience as a truth-teller in a time of panic.

In the opening of his Fox program on Monday, Mr. Hannity fumed at Democrats and the “media mob” for spreading “hysteria” and “fake news” before making a misleading claim about coronavirus deaths that many of Mr. Trump’s media allies have repeated since the outbreak began.

Citing tens of thousands of flu deaths each year, Mr. Hannity said, “Thankfully the toll surrounding coronavirus is lower.” Such claims ignore the fact that the virus is just beginning to be diagnosed in the United States, and that those who get it are far more likely to die. Experts, including those who have appeared on Mr. Hannity’s show, like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, say it is perhaps 10 times as deadly as the seasonal flu.

Mr. Hannity then went on to predict that in “hopefully four to six weeks, max,” the country “can get back to life as normal.”

Sharyl Attkisson, a former CBS News journalist, has developed a devoted following among right-leaning television viewers.

In the past, she has promoted the debunked theory that vaccines cause autism. Now she has taken an intense interest in coronavirus and published her own analysis of the death rates, which Mr. Hannity cited on his radio program on Monday even though the information was several days out of date.

The facts she has chosen recently to highlight leave the impression that the deaths are not all that significant in number and largely contained to one facility.

“Look at those 30-some-odd deaths — most of them were from Washington State,” Ms. Attkisson said last week on her podcast, adding that most of those were in an assisted-living facility. “The vast majority of those who passed away were from one cluster in the United States — almost none anywhere else.”

And yet visitors to Ms. Attkisson’s website this week might have come away confused about the severity of the virus, as there were several ads for high-grade protective masks.

Jerry Falwell Jr., a close ally of Mr. Trump, appeared last week on “Fox & Friends” and offered a startling explanation for the virus’s arrival in the United States.

Mr. Falwell, the president of Liberty University and son of the famous evangelist, shared a theory that he said he had heard from a local restaurant owner: Perhaps the North Koreans and the Chinese colluded to spread the coronavirus inside the United States.

“He said, ‘You remember the North Korean leader promised a Christmas present for America?’” Mr. Falwell asked the “Fox & Friends” hosts. “Could it be they got together with China and this is that present? I don’t know. But it really is something strange going on here.”

None of the hosts challenged Mr. Falwell’s point.

Ron Paul, the former Texas congressman and Republican presidential candidate, has long spread conspiracy theories about the government, describing secret plots underway to undermine the rights of citizens. The government’s response to the coronavirus, he wrote this week, could be one of those plots.

Mr. Paul, who is a physician, appeared to mock the designation of the outbreak as a pandemic.

“People should ask themselves whether this coronavirus ‘pandemic’ could be a big hoax, with the actual danger of the disease massively exaggerated by those who seek to profit — financially or politically — from the ensuing panic,” he wrote in an article on the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity website that was then posted on the website of the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on Monday.

Mr. Paul pointed to the small U.S. death toll at the time — noting that it was not even 100 people. It has since reached that grim milestone.

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