Story at a glance

  • Researchers analyzed transcripts from both cable news shows and documented differences in how the hosts initially covered the coronavirus threat.
  • The paper’s authors then polled more than 1,000 Fox News viewers on how they responded to the coronavirus threat.
  • Fox News disputed the findings, calling the study a “reckless disregard for the truth.”

Greater viewership of Fox News’ “Hannity” over “Tucker Carlson Tonight” may be linked to more COVID-19 cases and deaths in the early stages of the pandemic, according to a study by the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute for Economics. 

The working paper titled “Misinformation During a Pandemic,” focused on the news coverage of the coronavirus by Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, the two most widely viewed cable news shows in the country, in February and March. 


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“Carlson warned viewers about the threat posed by the coronavirus from early February, while Hannity originally dismissed the risks associated with the virus before gradually adjusting his position starting late February,” the researchers wrote. 

Researchers analyzed transcripts from both cable news shows and documented the differences in how the hosts initially covered the coronavirus outbreak, citing examples where Carlson warned viewers about the threat of the disease to the U.S., while Hannity downplayed or did not emphasize the potential threat to public health to the same extent. 

The paper’s authors then polled more than 1,000 Fox News viewers on how they responded to the coronavirus threat — whether they practiced social distancing, washed hands more frequently and canceled travel plans. 

Those surveyed said they were more likely to have changed their behavior over the coronavirus threat before March 1 if they watched “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” and after March 1 if they watched “Hannity.”

“We find that Hannity’s viewers on average changed their behavior in response to the coronavirus five days later than other Fox News viewers, while Carlson’s viewers changed behavior three days earlier than other Fox News viewers,” researchers said. 

Researchers analyzed county-by-county viewership data and COVID-19 infection and death numbers and found areas where more people watched Hannity relative to Carlson had higher local rates of infection and death. 

“A one-standard deviation increase in relative viewership of Hannity relative to Carlson is associated with approximately 30 percent more COVID-19 cases on March 14, and 21 percent more COVID-19 deaths on March 28,” researchers write. 

Fox News responded in a statement, disputing the findings of the study and the idea Hannity did not take the virus seriously. 

“The selective cherry-picked clips of Sean Hannity’s coverage used in this study are not only reckless and irresponsible, but downright factually wrong. As this timeline proves, Hannity has covered COVID-19 since the early days of the story,” Fox News said in a statement reported by Vox

“The ‘study’ almost completely ignores his coverage and repeated, specific warnings and concerns from January 27-February 26 including an early interview with Dr. Fauci in January. This is a reckless disregard for the truth.”


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Published on Apr 22, 2020