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Exposure to Sean Hannity may be lethal, studies on COVID-19 suggest

New studies suggest a correlation between Hannity’s stubborn denial of the coronavirus and a higher rate of cases in areas where he has the most viewers.

Exposure to Sean Hannity may be lethal, studies on COVID-19 suggest
[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]
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What: A round of recent studies that suggests infection and mortality rates for COVID-19 are higher in areas where Fox News star Sean Hannity reaches the most viewers.

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Who: Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, the National Bureau of Economic Research, and the University of Chicago, and other sources, as surfaced by the Washington Post.

Why we care: If only the current surge of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. marked the beginning of a dreaded Second Wave. Instead, our inability to get the coronavirus under control in any meaningful way nationwide indicates we are still in the throes of the first wave.

It didn’t have to be this way, as several other countries around the world have proved. One of the reasons the coronavirus has spun out of control in the U.S., though, is misinformation in our media. As the Washington Post reports, one of the worst offenders in influencing Americans’ opinions and behavior around the virus is Fox News personality Sean Hannity.

The article, written by Christopher Ingraham, draws from three studies to show how conservative media has polluted the informational waters of the coronavirus, amplifying false or misleading claims, promoting conspiracy theories, and discouraging preventative measures from viewers at key moments. One study, however, by economists at the University of Chicago and other institutions, focuses on Sean Hannity specifically, showing how the difference between his coverage of the virus and Tucker Carlson’s likely played a part in higher infection and mortality rates in areas where his show reaches the most viewers.

According to the researchers, “Carlson warned viewers that the coronavirus might pose a serious threat from early February, while Hannity first ignored the topic on his show and then dismissed the risks associated with the virus, claiming that it was less concerning than the common flu and insisting that Democrats were using it as a political weapon to undermine the president.”

This study finds that not only are Fox News viewers less likely to comply with public health guidelines than those who rely on other news sources, but it singles out Hannity viewers as being demonstrably skeptical at a critical point. Through surveys, the study determined Hannity fans were more likely to have changed behaviors like handwashing and travel plans four days later than viewers of other Fox News programs.

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Although this study has not yet gone through a formal peer-review process and doesn’t empirically prove causation, Ingraham notes that it has been praised by academics such as Zeynep Tufekci of The University of North Carolina, who has written extensively on the American response to COVID-19. The Center for Disease Control has not as yet officially declared exposure to Sean Hannity a public health risk.