Misinformation During a Pandemic
118 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2020 Last revised: 17 Jun 2020
Date Written: June 15, 2020
We study the effects of news coverage of COVID-19 by the two most widely-viewed cable news shows in the United States — Hannity and Tucker Carlson Tonight, both on Fox News — on viewers’ behavior and downstream health outcomes. Carlson warned viewers about the threat posed by COVID-19 from early February, while Hannity originally dismissed the associated risks before gradually adjusting his position starting late February. We first validate these differences in content with independent coding of show transcripts and present new survey evidence that Hannity’s viewers changed behavior in response to COVID-19 later than other Fox News viewers, while Carlson’s viewers changed behavior earlier. We then document a robust association between viewership of Hannity relative to Tucker Carlson Tonight and COVID-19 cases and deaths, both through a selection-on-observables strategy and through a novel instrumental variable approach exploiting variation in when shows are broadcast relative to local “prime-time” viewing hours. We assess effect sizes through a simple epidemiological model and provide additional evidence that misinformation is an important mechanism driving the observed effects.
Keywords: Media, Health, Coronavirus
JEL Classification: D1, I31, Z13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation