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The Fox News Channel is facing questions about its coverage of the novel coronavirus, which hosts like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro initially downplayed as a cudgel to “bludgeon” President Donald Trump politically. But the network’s advertisers don’t have much to say about the coverage.
This week, The Hollywood Reporter reached out to 13 of the network’s top advertisers in 2020, based on data from the measurement company Alphonso, and asked whether the companies plan to continue buying ads on the Fox News Channel amid the pandemic. Only one of those advertisers, autoglass company Safelite, responded.
“Our business is very focused on providing an essential service to our customers, many of whom are first responders,” a Safelite spokesperson said. “They need their vehicles, more than ever, to be safe in order to keep them on the road serving communities devastated by COVID-19. That is our priority and focus at this time.”
Representatives for Nutrisystem, the network’s top 2020 advertiser, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Nugenix, Sandals Resorts, Sleep Number, GEICO, Intuit, NewDay USA, Norton, Progressive, DealDash and Allstate did not respond.
While reticent to comment publicly for fear of retribution, some Fox News Media employees have expressed their disappointment with the coverage.
“While the anchors were on air calling the whole thing a hoax to impeach the president, we were having daily meetings on how to prepare for a 9/11-like scenario and how we’d stay on air,” one behind-the-scenes Fox staffer told THR.
“Everyone’s dumping all over Fox anchors, and rightly so, for not taking this seriously,” another Fox employee said, mentioning network personalities like Ingraham.
In response to a request for comment, a Fox News spokesperson said Wednesday, “The cherry-picking of our opinion coverage is grossly irresponsible and we are extremely proud of our coverage and the public service we’ve provided to millions of Americans.”
Hannity, in particular, has rejected public criticism that he or Trump downplayed the severity of the virus, lashing out in a series of tweets on Wednesday at New York Times columnist Kara Swisher, who wrote that “the network spent too long spraying its viewers with false information about the coronavirus pandemic” and misled her Fox-watching mother about the threat.
Hannity replied, in part, “Hey Kara, 10 days after the first confirmed Covid 19 case in the USA (Jan 21) President Trump implemented the travel ban (Jan 31) Did the Potus make the right decision? Or do you agree with Quid Pro Quo Joe, that it was ‘Hysterical Xenophobia and Fear Mongering’?”
On Friday, the network “parted ways” with Fox Business host Trish Regan, but didn’t explain why. On her March 9 show, Regan had told viewers that “many in the liberal media [are] using, and I mean using, coronavirus in an attempt to demonize and destroy the president,” a monologue that drew criticism.
But, a little over a week earlier, Hannity, who remains in primetime, had said something similar to his viewers. “They’re now sadly politicizing and actually weaponizing an infectious disease, in what is basically just the latest effort to bludgeon President Trump,” he said on Feb. 27.
Fox Corp. board members did not respond to requests for comment on the channel’s coronavirus coverage. On Tuesday, Fox said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it doesn’t have an estimate for how the pandemic could impact “its current and future advertising revenues” but disclosed that it expects “COVID-19 could have a material adverse effect.”
Nick Merrill, a spokesperson for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, rejected the network’s criticism of a tweet she sent on Friday, when she poked at the president by saying, “He did promise ‘America First,'” when sharing an article about the U.S. leading the world in coronavirus deaths.
“What is ‘insensitive’ is a major news network spreading bullshit propaganda about a deadly virus for two weeks, endangering millions, to try and protect one person,” Merrill told THR of the channel’s coverage.
James Murdoch — the former CEO of 21st Century Fox who is currently not affiliated with the network in an official capacity — has previously expressed criticism of Fox News’ climate coverage, and said in October that he doesn’t watch the network anymore. When asked for comment on the network’s coverage of the coronavirus, Murdoch declined comment through a spokesperson.
Progressive groups that target Fox News advertisers have been active in noting the network’s coronavirus coverage. The advertising-focused advocacy group Sleeping Giants told THR in a statement, “It is obviously up to brands where they want to advertise, but the ones who remain on Fox News are very publicly supporting and monetizing a network that dangerously downplayed this virus early on, risking the health of our country and even their own viewership.”
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