On Feb. 27, two days after the first reported case of the coronavirus spreading inside a community in the United States, Candace Owens was underwhelmed. “Now we’re all going to die from Coronavirus,” she wrote sarcastically to her two million Twitter followers, blaming a “doomsday cult” of liberal paranoia for the growing anxiety over the outbreak.
One month later, on the day the United States reached the grim milestone of having more documented coronavirus cases than anywhere in the world, Ms. Owens — a conservative commentator whom President Trump has called “a real star” — was back at it, offering what she said was “a little perspective” on the 1,000 American deaths so far. “The 2009 swine flu infected 1.4 Billion people around the world, and killed 575,000 people,” she wrote. “There was no media panic, and societies did not shut down.”
In the weeks leading up to the escalation of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, tens of millions of Americans who get their information from media personalities like Ms. Owens heard that this once-in-a-lifetime global health crisis was actually downright ordinary.
The president’s backers sometimes seemed to take their cues from him. On Feb. 26, the day before Ms. Owens was a guest at the White House for an African-American History Month reception, Mr. Trump denied it would spread further. “I don’t think it’s inevitable,” he said.
At other times, the president echoed right-wing media stars. When he declared at a campaign rally two days later that criticism of his halting response was a “new hoax,” commentators like Laura Ingraham of Fox News had already been accusing his opponents of exploiting the crisis. “A coronavirus,” she said on Feb. 25, “that’s a new pathway for hitting President Trump.” And when he falsely asserted that he had treated the outbreak as a pandemic all along, Fox hosts like Sean Hannity backed him up, saying that Mr. Trump’s decision to restrict travel from China and Europe would “go down as the single most consequential decision in history.” [Continue reading…]