A study published by the University of Chicago has found that people who watch Sean Hannity's show on Fox News are more likely to spread coronavirus than those that do not.
The paper that has been written by the economists conomists Leonardo Bursztyn, Aakaash Rao, Christopher Roth, and David Yanagizawa-Drott looked specifically at the output on the network between February and March and the contrasting statements made by Hannity and his colleague Tucker Carlson who host two of the most widely viewed cable news shows in the United States.
Both men have taken a different approach to the pandemic. While Hannity has been downplaying the seriousness of the virus on his show, Carlson has been warning his viewers to take precautions against Covid-19 since February.
Looking at viewers of the shows who are aged 55 and over, the researchers managed to calculate that those who were more exposed to Hannity's show, compared to Carlson's were more likely to ignore social distancing rules and had a higher rate of infection and death from the illness.
The authors of the study report:
Greater exposure to Hannity relative to Tucker Carlson Tonight leads to a greater number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. 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.
Both anchors first discussed the coronavirus in late January when the first US case was reported, but Carlson continued to discuss the subject extensively throughout February while Hannity did not again mention it on his show until the end of the month.
While Hannity discussed the coronavirus as frequently as Carlson during early March, he downplayed its seriousness and accused Democrats of using it as a partisan tool to undermine the administration.
Although the paper hasn't been peer-reviewed or accepted for publication by a journal it is said to be conducive with research of how misinformation can be spread by the media and how that has an effect on a persons actions and behaviour.
Zeynep Tufecki, a professor at University of North Carolina, praised the study and is quoted by Vox as saying:
It’s a good paper; they took pains to control for many alternative explanations. This really looks like a causal effect of misinformation [leading] to deaths.
However, Fox have already disputed the findings. A statement from a spokesperson says:
The selective cherry-picked clips of Sean Hannity’s coverage used in this study are not only reckless and irresponsible, but down right factually wrong. As this timeline proves, Hannity has covered Covid-19 since the early days of the story. 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.
In recent weeks Hannity has encouraged viewers to experiment with the controversial and untested hydroxychloroquine drug, a medication used to tackle malaria, which has been pushed by Donald Trump. With that being said, Carlson is hardly a saint when it has come to coronavirus.
Despite warning viewers about the dangers of the disease. As Vox reports, the anchor has said rallied against social distancing advice and given his support to the anti-lockdown protesters who have popped up in various states across the US.
Media Matters adds that at least seven different polls have found that misinformation broadcast on Fox News and contributed to the spread of Covid-19, with 45 per cent of their viewers reportedly believing that the current death toll has been inflated by the media.