John Oliver Slams Rush Limbaugh, Fox News for Spreading Myths About Coronavirus

John Oliver - Season 7 - Episode 8 - Publicity-H 2020
Courtesy of HBO

John Oliver once again devoted most of Last Week Tonight to the novel coronavirus, this time taking on conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and Fox News Channel for spreading inaccuracies about the disease.

Oliver showed a clip of Limbaugh downplaying the coronavirus threat. "All of this panic is just not warranted," Limbaugh says in the clip, equating it to the common cold. Limbaugh also noted that COVID-19 is the "19th coronavirus," meaning it's "not uncommon."

Oliver first corrected Limbaugh's error about the COVID-19 name. 

"They call it that because it was first identified in 2019, you gigantic potato," he said. "Just no. But also no to the coronavirus being the common cold. No to it being 'not uncommon.' No to your gold microphone. No to your browser being open to the Drudge Report.... Most of all no to your stupid quarantine beard. You look like if Santa was MeToo'd, kicked out of the North Pole and forced to move to a condo in Tampa with all linoleum floors."

Oliver then turned to Fox News, whose hosts, he said, first downplayed the danger of the virus with segments titled "Coronavirus Hysteria" and "Liberal Media Hoax Backfires."

He said the channel's hosts then "pivoted from downplaying the warnings to downplaying the number of deaths." He showed clips featuring hosts like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, along with guests including Dr. Phil McGraw and Dr. Drew Pinsky, espousing comments including that the flu is more dangerous and kills more people than the coronavirus. Oliver noted that these messages were being aired even as Fox News brass behind the scenes were telling employees to cancel in-person meetings and were suspending nonessential travel. "They only pretend to believe these things on television for money," he opined.

Oliver then turned to Trump. He showed a clip from Fox News' The Next Revolution With Steve Hilton with the host quoting "the famous phrase 'The cure is worse than the disease,'" referring to the quarantine and isolation being mandated throughout the country amid the pandemic.

A couple hours after Hilton said this on air, Oliver said, Trump tweeted: "We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself" on March 22. The next day, he repeated that many times during a briefing with reporters. "It's pretty depressing to hear the president just parrot what he heard on TV the night before," Oliver said. "And if he's gonna do that, the very least he could do is pick a better show than Steve Hilton's The Next Revolution. Why not go with Below Deck: Sailing Yacht?... It wouldn't be helpful during a pandemic, but at least it wouldn't be actively harmful. That is what is infuriating here. Even though Trump has access to the country's top experts, he's still getting advice from watching TV."

Oliver then showed a clip of a Fox News segment touting anti-malaria medicine hydroxychloroquine as a viable treatment though nothing has been proved about its effectiveness against the coronavirus and the information cited in the segment was not accurate. Trump also has mentioned the drug.

"The feedback loop between Fox and Trump has run way ahead of the science here," Oliver said. "The efficacy of the drug, which should be a scientific issue, has become a political one."

He added: "I'd like nothing more than if this was somehow a miracle cure. But i can't say it is and I can't say it isn't because it's still being tested, and I'm not a fucking doctor. It might. It could. But it's too soon to say. The problem is, 'might' and 'could' aren't really word that grab an audience. That is why cable news often traffics in bright primary colors and easy storylines. Me telling you 'we have to wait for results' isn't satisfying to hear or to watch."