Although coronavirus remains the greatest health hazard in the US at the moment, millions of Americans from across the country took to the streets to protest restrictions on movement and economic activity imposed by their governors. Emboldened by President Trump, who downplays recommendations issued by his very own administration and repeatedly calls to reopen the country, protesters argue that shelter-in orders and shuttering of cities infringe on their civil liberties.
A brief overview of the right-wing media’s coverage of the pandemic gives a few clues as to why people are out there risking their own, as well as the public’s health by taking to the streets without observing social distancing guidelines or covering their faces.
Take a look at Fox News, for instance, the right’s most prominent media platform. In the early stages of the pandemic, Fox News anchors and pundits repeatedly downplayed the threat of the disease, and echoed the president’s portrayal of it as a “hoax” concocted by Democrats. As the virus spread like wildfire across all 50 states and began claiming the lives of tens of thousands of Americans, Fox News remained steadfast in its attempt to question the seriousness of the situation and utilise it to score political points for Republicans.
Now, the network’s hosts continuously attack public figures advocating for the prolonging of shelter-in orders, and inundate their viewers with calls to restore economic activity. It’s important to stress that Fox News’ frantic demand to send Americans back to work does not involve increased protection of workers’ rights during the reopening on the economy, on the contrary—its anchors and featured guests bash Democrats like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York who advocate for additional safety nets and financial support to be provided to workers.
But just as important in shaping the right’s perception of the pandemic and the nation’s response to it are smaller news platforms. One of them is The Gateway Pundit, a far-right, conservative news site. Calling it a news platform might be a wild exaggeration, though, as Gateway pundits, such as their former contributor Lucian Wintrich, are notorious for spreading distorted or downright false information and propagating ludicrous conspiracy theories. A quick look at Lucian Wintrich’s Twitter account will demonstrate my point.
Conspicuous in Gateway Pundit’s coverage of the pandemic are the downplaying of the severity of the disease and the insistence that governors’ shelter-in orders are but autocratic decrees that violate Americans’ freedoms. In the article Sweden Resisted Suicidal Economic Lockdown – Now Stockholm Expected to Reach “Herd Immunity” in Weeks the publication disseminated the factually wrong claim that Sweden refused to impose mandatory shelter-in regulations in order to develop “herd immunity” among its population.
Another story reported the debunked conspiracy theory according to which the virus had been concocted in Chinese labs. In the comments section, readers often fill in the blanks left by Gateway Pundit reporters—referring to the virus as an overhyped hoax or regarding its spread as a deliberate sabotage attempt by the Chinese government.
But we would be remiss in writing off platforms such as The Gateway Pundit as virtual looney bins for extremists; such websites are widely popular among millions of Americans who view them as the ultimate conveyors of truth in a media environment dominated by big government and elitist interests (which they ascribe primarily to the left).
In reality, these platforms end up playing into the hands of corporate and elite right-wing interests, particularly in the era of Trump, which saw the merging of various factions of the right into a unified, omnipotent entity. For Trump, right wing media moguls and conservative American billionaires funnelling seed money into these platforms, the goals are similar—maximisation of profit, the perpetuation of unbridled capitalism and the swift resuscitation of the stock market.
What we witness now has arguably nothing to do with coronavirus or public health, and has everything to do with the decades-long attempt by corporate powers and the right-wing elite to achieve political and financial dominance by imbedding their interests into popular conservative ideals of liberty and faith.
People protesting in the streets now are being used as pawns by major corporate, political and religious conservative powers, who prey on people’s very genuine hardship, fear, and mistrust of government in order to expand their wealth and authority. Aided by media outlets both big and small, the right wing elite is orchestrating a most vicious and effective manipulation campaign against the public; one that derails America’s already flawed response to the crisis, increases the likelihood of repeated surges of the virus, and risks raising the number of infections and deaths in the US, and ultimately beyond.