On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver unpacked another “brutal week” of coronavirus dominating the news but saw a silver lining in Dame Judi Dench’s dance abilities on TikTok.
That said, Oliver dove deep into the misinformation being spread about coronavirus. This includes claims that microwaving mail can kill the virus and that breast milk and garlic can help prevent it. The wide spread of misinformation has led to the most recent protest against stay at home orders.
Oliver points out that many people — including these protesters — think that coronavirus is less deadly than the flu. Specifically, 40% of Americans think this but in fact, it is not true. Coronavirus is many times deadlier. “Comparing coronavirus to the flu is like comparing Jeffrey Dahmer to OJ Simpson,” Oliver jokes. He then adds, “Bad information is not only frustrating and dangerous, it can force us to stay at home longer.”
It is here where he starts unpacking all of the misinformation coming out from people like televangelist Kenneth Copeland and Rush Limbaugh, who had said that “panic is not warranted” when the pandemic started.
“The problem is, many in conservative media have found it easy to fold this virus into narratives they have been carefully building up for decades,” Oliver said. “Limbaugh has endlessly pushed his “four corners of deceit” on his radio show. This includes: government, academia, science and media which all happen to be important groups to listen to during a public health crisis. On top of that, he has established his show as a sole outlet worth trusting — which gives him power.”
Oliver then pivots to Fox News which, early on, reported the coronavirus warning as a hysterical attack by the media to derail Donald Trump. However, when people started dying due to the virus, they went from downplaying the warning to downplaying the deaths.
Fox News underestimated the danger of the coronavirus early on but as the death toll mounted, they were behind the scenes suspending non-essential business travel and had their employees cancel in-person meetings and summits. They also encouraged them to conduct business via Skype. According to Oliver, they did this because “they only tend to believe these things on television for money.”
He added, “The problem is Trump is the subject of this misinformation and he is also the target of it.” Trump pulls talking points from what he sees — and that is Fox News.
At one point, Steve Hilton said that the cure is worse than the problem itself. Days later, Trump reiterated that during pressers.
“It’s pretty depressing to see the press parroting what he heard on Fox News the night before,” said Oliver. He adds that Trump has access to the top experts in the world yet he still gets advice by watching TV.
Another bit of misinformation harvested by Trump was when a supposed Stanford School of Medicine advisor named Gregory Rigano said that the drug hydroxychloroquine was a potential form of treatment for coronavirus. The next day, Trump took this information and ran with it even though Stanford School of Medicine came forward to say that Rigano was not an advisor and they were not involved in the study.
“The feedback loop between Fox and Trump has run way ahead of the science here,” said Oliver. Fox News continued to advocate for hydroxychloroquine and as the media frenzy continued, the efficacy of the drug went from being a scientific issue to a political one. He pointed out, “Anyone who wants more ethical studies on the drug will be seen on the right as a Trump hater. That being said, because of all of the hydroxychloroquine talk, existing patients with lupus who need the drug weren’t able to get their prescriptions refilled.
“The skills required to produce tv and to govern are very different — unfortunately we have a president who doesn’t know the difference,” said Oliver. Even at the start of his term, Trump told top aides to think of each day as an episode as a television show where he vanquishes rivals.
“We have a network and president who thrive on division feeding on one another at time when we desperately need a unified response to a public health crisis,” states Oliver. The aforementioned protests were fueled by misinformation and also led to Trump to tweet “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA!” All of this at a time when 66% of Americans admit that it’s dangerous if the stay-at-home orders are lifted too early.
Oliver, like many of us, want all of this to be over. And it is here where he gets personal, saying he’s known people who have died from coronavirus. He also knows people who are taking hydroxychloroquine because they think it will give them immunity and he also knows people with lupus who are down to their last doses of hydroxychloroquine.
“It makes me fucking furious,” he bluntly said before adding, “The fact is the fastest way for this to be over is for all of us to remain united in this very difficult task. The only way that happens is if we have trusted, well-informed leadership which, unfortunately, we don’t.”
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.