Sean Hannity will try to tell you that he took the coronavirus oh-so seriously all along. He recently said he never thought the mounting concern about the novel coronavirus was a hoax. And you know he’s serious by how many veins are visible in his neck and forehead when he proclaims these things. Six veins? He’s DEF CON SERIOUS, yo.
But now, a new study is suggesting that watching Sean Hannity in the early stages of the outbreak was literally a fatal decision for some viewers.
The study, from economists Leonardo Bursztyn, Aakaash Rao, Christopher Roth, and David Yanagizawa-Drott, compared Hannity’s coverage to that of fellow Fox host Tucker Carlson, who painted a more dire picture of the growing health crisis. The authors concluded that those who watched Hannity were less likely to follow social distancing guidelines than those who tuned in to Carlson’s show. Furthermore, areas where Hannity was more popular had higher COVID-19 death and infection rates.
“Greater exposure to Hannity relative to Tucker Carlson Tonight leads to a greater number of COVID-19 cases and deaths,” they write. “A one-standard deviation increase in relative viewership of Hannity relative to Carlson is associated with approximately 30 percent more COVID-19 cases on March 14, and 21 percent more COVID-19 deaths on March 28.”
This is a working paper; it hasn’t been peer reviewed or accepted for publication at a journal. However, it’s consistent with a wide body of research finding that media consumption in general, and Fox News viewership in particular, can have a pretty powerful effect on individual behavior.
What’s more, the research design on this particular study seems quite rigorous, according to those scholars who have taken early looks.
“It’s a good paper; they took pains to control for many alternative explanations,” writes Zeynep Tufecki, a professor at the University of North Carolina who studies technology and research methods. “This really looks like a causal effect of misinformation [leading] to deaths.”
Luckily, Sean Hannity is such a reasonable, even-tempered fellow, and if he crawls out of Donald Trump’s arse sometime this spring and doesn’t see his shadow, he’ll definitely issue the requisite mea culpas forthwith.
Or else he’ll go on a crazy Twitter rant and threaten to sue everyone in the Western Hemisphere who’s ever used his name in vain.
You just never know, do you?
Here’s a link to the full study.
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