Insurance companies have issued some of the loudest calls for climate action, and they rely on hard data to make their assessments. But a new report from Media Matters for America finds that major insurers are top sponsors of Fox News’ coverage of highly misleading pandemic coverage, using tactics it honed through years of climate denial.
Fox shows have built on their fearmongering about climate policies by claiming that the pandemic is a preview of what life will be like under the Green New Deal. They have also baselessly attacked the modelling scientists have used to map the virus’ spread in the same way they’ve attacked climate models and downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic by way of tactics that they’ve used to deny that the climate crisis is happening.
When they do acknowledge that something is wrong, show hosts peddle false cures. Fox shows such as Fox & Friends, The Ingraham Angle, Hannity, and Tucker Carlson Tonight have pushed untested antimalarial drugs (including Trump’s favourite, hydroxychloroquine) dozens of times, to the horror of many, including even Fox News show host Neil Cavuto. They do the same with the climate crisis: last month, anchor Jesse Watters said on Hannity, “you can fight climate change with suntan lotion, it’s not that big of a deal.”
“A hallmark of Fox News climate crisis coverage is to dismiss the urgency of the threat, if not outright denying it, and labelling those advocating for bold action as hysterical and alarmists,” Alison Fisher, the climate and energy program director for Media Matters for America, told Earther in an email.
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Despite this, 43 insurance companies chose to run more than 3,000 ads on Fox throughout the months of March and April. That’s 10 per cent of all advertisements run on the network.
“Insurance companies pride themselves on their commitment to scientific rigour and risk management,” the report says. “Yet they continue to be among the biggest advertisers on Fox at a time when the network is under intense scrutiny — and possible liability — for spreading dangerous misinformation about, and downplaying the severity of, the coronavirus outbreak.”
In particular Allstate, Geico, Liberty Mutual, Progressive, and USAA accounted for more than half of those 3,000 ads. Four of those five companies, Allstate, Liberty Mutual, Progressive, and USAA, are among the network’s top 10 overall advertisers, meaning they’re top profiteers from the network’s deceitful coronavirus and climate coverage.
“It is highly unlikely that these companies are unaware of the network’s position on climate or it’s role in keeping climate denial alive, even in the face of dire warnings from the scientific community and increasingly deadly climate-fuelled weather events,” said Fisher. “Yet, they continue to sponsor the network and underwrit its spread of denial.”
It’s particularly troubling for insurance companies to sponsor this denial because they play an important role in Americans’ ability to recover from the damages related to both climate and the pandemic. When facing damaged homes and shuttered businesses, people rely on their insurance providers’ understanding of the seriousness of both of these crises.
Yet the falsehoods Fox News is spreading are having an impact, undermining fact-based advice: A study released last week showed that a one-per cent increase in Fox News viewership in a zip code reduced the propensity to maintain social distancing orders by 8.9 per cent, and five other polls also show Fox viewers are taking the pandemic less seriously
Publicly, these insurers have shown they grasp the gravity of both crises making statements climate change and the coronavirus pandemic. But that, the report says, “does not absolve them of the responsibility they bear for supporting Fox.”
By running ads on the network, insurance companies are allowing it to continue peddling dangerous narratives. If they really understand the urgency of these two disasters, they should put their money where their mouth is and pull their ads immediately.