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Fox News hosts have measurable effect on COVID cases, study finds

EnlargeAurich Lawson / Fox News
One of the more frustrating aspects of the coronavirus pandemic has ..

By admin , in Tech , at April 22, 2020

EnlargeAurich Lawson / Fox News

One of the more frustrating aspects of the coronavirus pandemic has been the amount of disinformation swirling about. Much of this is politically motivated, perhaps unsurprising with the attention given to President Donald Trump's rambling, error-strewn press conferences. It may seem like commonsense that actively misleading the public during a national emergency has consequences, but now Fox News' two most-watched hosts have unwittingly performed a rather elegant experiment on their viewers that allows us to quantify that effect. The results are stark: greater exposure to Sean Hannity versus Tucker Carlson shows a measurable increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths throughout March and early April.

Hannity and Carlson are Fox News' two biggest stars, each commanding around 4 million viewers for their respective evening shows (Hannity and Tucker Carlson Tonight). While often it can be hard to see daylight between their ideological pronouncements on-air, in early 2020, the two had markedly different lines on the coronavirus outbreak. Carlson began regularly covering the virus in January. During February, he did so with a growing sense of alarm that the United States could experience a heavy death toll—the same month that saw much inaction on the part of the federal government.

By contrast, Hannity gave the virus almost no attention in February. And when he began to discuss the virus at the same frequency as Carlson during the first two weeks of March, it was to minimize the threat compared to the number of annual deaths attributable to car crashes, shootings, or seasonal influenza. Additionally, Hannity also accused the Democratic Party of exaggerating the threat as a way of attacking the president. However, by mid-March, Hannity changed his tune once President Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency.

The study comes from a group of researchers led by the University of Chicago's Leonardo Bursztyn and uses survey data gathered in April from 1,045 regular viewers of Fox News (aged 55 and over) to examine the timing of behavioral changes in response to the virus—when people began to cancel travel, isolate, increase the frequency of hand-washing, and so on.

The results are striking. Survey participants who preferred watching Carlson began changing their behavior on average three days earlier than other Fox News viewers. Meanwhile, participants who preferred Hannity acted much later—five days after other Fox News viewers, and eight days after Carlson viewers.

Next, the authors examined the data at a more granular level to determine whether there were local differences in the rate of COVID-19 infections or deaths in areas that watched more Hannity versus Carlson. They found that:

[C]ontrolling for a rich set of county-level demographics (including the local market share of Fox News), greater local viewership of Hannity relative to Tucker Carlson Tonight is associated with a greater number of COVID-19 cases starting in early March and a greater number of deaths resulting from COVID-19 starting in mid-March. In a set of permutation tests across socio-economic, demographic, political, and health-related covariates, as well as across geographical fixed effects to account for unobservable factors, we show that the established relationship is highly robust. Indeed, the estimated effects of exposure become stronger as we control for more factors.

The study then goes on to tease out whether there could be another reasoRead More – Source