Fox News chairman Rupert Murdoch was supposed to celebrate his 89th birthday on March 11 with a lavish party at his California estate. But on March 8, with the COVID-19 coronavirus spreading, "the Murdoch family called off a planned party out of concern for the patriarch's health," Ben Smith reports at The New York Times. Lachlan Murdoch, the 48-year-old son nominally in charge of Fox News, "knew the virus was coming" by January, because "he'd been getting regular updates from the family's political allies and journalists in his father's native Australia," Smith reported.
But "if you were watching some of the commentators on Fox News and Fox Business in the first 10 days of March, you wouldn't have been too worried about the coronavirus," Smith notes: "It would be no worse than the flu, and the real story was the 'coronavirus impeachment scam.'" Two things changed the network's prime-time downplaying of the pandemic — Fox Business host Trish Regan took things too far, and President Trump started warning about the coronavirus publicly on March 11. The Washington Post rounded up some before-and-after commentary:
Smith described a "glaring" gap between how seriously "the elite, globally minded family owners of Fox" took the COVID-19 pandemic and the big shrugs from "many of their nominal stars." But Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott also responded quickly and decisively inside the network's Manhattan headquarters starting in late February, as the apostate Republican Lincoln Project highlighted in its own rebuke of the conservative pro-Trump media's coronavirus coverage.
On Tuesday, with a sixth Fox News staffer testing positive for COVID-19, Scott noted in an internal memo that "the vast majority of our workforce is now telecommuting" and ordered a halt to all in-studio bookings and contributor appearances. Smith asked Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Public Health Institute, if he believed people will die because of Fox's coverage in those critical two weeks, and he said yes, this "very specific type of misinformation" has been "very harmful." A Fox News spokeswoman accused the Times of "politicizing this serious threat" by "cherry-picking" clips from "our opinion programs."