Informed that Fox News talking heads were getting hammered for having dismissed the virus now afflicting Americans by the thousands, my wife shrugged.
“They have to follow their leader,” she explained.
So very true.
Once upon a time to call one’s self a news organization would, by definition, mean a devotion to independence and truth-seeking. Today, at one news organization in particular, it means a game of Follow the Leader.
What we see with three players — Donald Trump, Fox News and untruth — is a lover’s triangle. Trump utters untruth. Fox repeats it and venerates it. Trump hears his untruth venerated on Fox News. He feels further venerated, his untruth made true.
Now throw devoted Fox News viewers into the mix and the droplets of untruth they spread among themselves.
Before the virus, this was a truth problem. Now it’s a virus problem.
The informational relationship between Trump and MAGA red caps could be compared to Legionnaires disease – a microbe circulating, recirculating and recirculating again in a confined area.
That living space has two musty rooms: Fox News and the social media sites they inhabit.
This was not a health problem when no one could be killed by untruth, unless it involved, say vaccinations or Tide Pods.
Now the untruth that was perpetuated by this president and his info pipeline has not only delayed action in some parts of the country but has resulted in more people contaminated and thereby spreading the disease.
Now, just as Trump rebuffed and delayed serious action to fight COVID-19, we see several red states dragging their heels, while states like California, New York and Colorado take the virus threat like what it is: a threat to every American life.
We see lawmakers like Alaska Republican Congressman Don Young calling it the “Beer Virus.” (Corona — get it? Yuck, yuck.)
We see Trump plying racism, the life force of his movement, by calling it the “Chinese virus,” and fellow yucksters calling it the “Kung Flu” and passing on myths like it came from the eating of bats. (That’s you, Sen. John Cornyn).
We see Alex Jones, a Trump-favored information source, selling bogus remedies to it.
We see a Trump favorite like California Rep. Devin Nunes saying people should go to restaurants and bars, then saying he meant for carry-out. Oh, yes? To the bars? A Corona to go?
What’s frightening, just as frightening as the virus itself, is that so many Americans are vulnerable to all of the above.
When Trump was running for president, I offered a term for these people: the Thirders. This came from polls that showed that one-third of Americans consistently asserted that Barack Obama was a Muslim.
It was roughly the same sub-set of Americans who, polls said, blamed Obama for the poor federal response to Hurricane Katrina – three years before Obama became president.
They will not be constrained by facts.
Back to the present – or, say, three weeks ago: While state and local leaders were frantic to get ahead of a virus Trump and the hydra of myth purveyors on conservative TV and talk radio were doing the opposite.
Right now, having reversed their hawking of a “liberal hoax,” the operative myth purveyed by those on the right is that Trump is the decisive “war president” we need at the moment to set everything right.
That’s not what we heard from governors, mayors and health-care workers who felt left in the gale against the elements.
Trump may get his act together, and we with him. But history will record the delay in not only responding to the crisis but acknowledging it at all.
As Greg Sargent writes in the Washington Post, “Trump propagandists like Sean Hannity have stampeded in herd-like fashion from initially attacking the media for supposedly hyping coronavirus to claiming its dire nature actually displays Trump’s heroism.”
Some of Trump’s followers have gotten the message. Some have not. Social distancing is six feet? For now, double that if someone on the trail is wearing a red ball cap.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.