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Covid Denialist Crazies

Covid trutherism on Fox News this past Sunday night

Have you heard of the Covid denialists? I had not until I received a furious e-mail from Wyoming Doc, who has been writing me daily telling me about how he and his team are working themselves to the bone treating the growing influx of Covid patients. He gives me permission to post this here:

I have been made aware of a group of people in America — call them COVID deniers — that are now going around taking videos of empty hospital parking lots, and POOF: we have evidence this is all a huge hoax.  Even more concerning, my sister reports to me this type of thing is getting some play on Fox News.
Well, for the first time in my life — after the Sandy Hook deniers, the Obama Birth Certificate deniers — and all the other crazy that has toxified our discourse, I CAN NOW PERSONALLY TESTIFY these people are well and truly nuts.
Tell these two people I have intubated yesterday that this is a hoax — or better yet, their teenage children. Tell the other 15-20 people we have in the hospital struggling to breathe, but not intubated yet.  Tell it to the very ill positive patients I have that are sitting at home sick as they can be.
Maybe these knuckleheads need to realize that the parking lots are empty because all the procedures and surgeries have been cancelled.
Maybe these morons need to realize that critically ill patients are never dropped off at the front door of the hospitals.
Maybe these imbeciles should be told that every hospital and clinic in America is doing every thing they can to keep people away from hospitals, which are known foci of transmission.
If it is true that Fox News has been giving these cretins a voice, they should be ashamed.  I do not know — I just do not have time to even look at a TV right now.
My initial sense was that Wyoming Doc’s sister is talking about Todd Starnes, who used to be with Fox, but was let go late last year after a guest on his radio show said that Democrats worship Moloch.
Starnes has emerged as a leading Covid denialist. [UPDATE: He vehemently denies this — see below. I am pleased to learn that it isn’t true, and happily retract the claim. — RD] From NBC News, a report about how Starnes tweeted video of no activity outside a Brooklyn hospital, and framed it as a sign that Covid is a hoax:
But the grim realities of hospitals overflowing with patients seeking treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, are not always as visible from the outside, leaving space for bad actors and coronavirus denialists to push dangerous disinformation — and put themselves in harm’s way.

Starnes’ tweet — viewed 1.3 million times — was one of the first and most popular examples of the wider conspiracy theory that spread on social media over the weekend centered on the #FilmYourHospital hashtag, which called for people to go to hospitals and capture what was happening.

NBC News found more than a dozen videos pushing the #FilmYourHospital conspiracy. The videos were mostly recorded outside hospitals in New York City, a region shouldering the brunt of the U.S. outbreak, with more than 66,000 cases and more than 1,200 deaths. A few videos came from other states, including New Jersey, California and Ohio. Shared by far-right conservatives and conspiracy accounts across Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, the videos collectively had been viewed millions of times as of Monday.

The #FilmYourHospital hashtag had been tweeted by more than 5,000 accounts by Monday afternoon, although some people were critical of the conspiracy theory.

Well, it turns out that Covid denialism was actually on Fox News proper. Fox contributor Sarah Carter floated the idea on Fox News on March 30.  Mediate reports:
On Fox News Sunday night, [Carter] appeared on The Next Revolution With Steve Hilton and floated the nuts idea:

“And unfortunately, that’s not happening. You can see it on Twitter, Steve. People are saying, ‘Film your hospital,’ people are driving by their hospitals and they’re not seeing — in the ones that I’m seeing —  they’re not seeing anybody in the parking lots. They’re not seeing anybody drive up. So, people are wondering what’s going inside the hospital. How many people are actually in the hospitals that are suffering from coronavirus, how many ventilators, are the ICUs really being filled, how full are they, what’s happening in my home town? So people have questions and they need answers. And that’s very important. And we should be questioning the numbers all over the world, we should be questioning the stats, and we should be hearing from all doctors. And that’s not saying that what’s happening right now isn’t serious and very real.”

She also did it on Twitter:

You can see Carter saying this on the embedded segment here.

To be very clear, this is not the entire Fox News network. It was one Fox regular contributor on one weekend show. But yes, Wyoming Doc is right: Fox should be ashamed to have given a Covid denialist a platform to spread what amounts to enemy propaganda.

UPDATE: Todd Starnes writes:

I must demand an immediate retraction and apology.
You called me a covid denialist. That’s a flat-out lie. I’m really astonished that you would publish something like that.
Please let me know when you’ve retracted the story and posted a public apology.
I am happy to learn that Starnes is not a Covid denialist, and if I have falsely portrayed him as such, I retract it and apologize. Here is the tweet he sent out the other day:
That tweet was retweeted by Covid denialists, and cited as part of their case. I am relieved to read that he does not endorse Covid trutherism, and happy to pass that on to you.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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