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Opinion | Why Fox News Is Still in a Coronavirus Bubble

For Hannity, the president’s case wasn’t serious until it needed to be. Then it was serious. Deadly serious.

Everyone reckons with cognitive dissonance. Lord knows I have. I tuned out the ugliest charges made against Bill Clinton for years, as did loads of other feminists, most notably Gloria Steinem. “But he votes the right way,” we’d tell ourselves — just as evangelicals surely tell themselves that Trump supports their agenda on Roe, conveniently overlooking the 25-plus charges of sexual misconduct against him.

Not that these two men are equivalent in terms of their character. Who are we kidding.

But the point is: People will do a great deal to justify their belief systems, even if it means tolerating a thousand tiny inconsistencies. And Fox News is especially adept at giving people scripts they can use to minimize their discomfort with bothersome, disconfirming facts.

Even if they were to wake up one morning and realize that their thinking about this pandemic had involved some catastrophic errors in judgment, neither Sean Hannity nor Laura Ingraham seems like the type who’d acknowledge them publicly. It’s much more likely that they would quietly consign them to a memory hole. Conceding mistakes requires intellectual humility, which in both of these hosts is in demonstrably short supply; and anyway, what they peddle is certainty, cocksurety of opinion. It’s their brand.

The real question is whether their viewers will change their minds after watching the president struggle with the coronavirus. It was notable, I thought, that a few of Trump’s supporters were wearing masks outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

But I don’t feel much hope. It requires a pretty thick hide to say you disagree with your former self (which may partly account for people’s fascination with the Lincoln Project). People tend to do so only when they feel that it’s safe — when they can be reasonably assured that the reception will be one of generosity and not a slightly more articulate version of nah-nah-nee-boo-boo.

We are at a moment of peak nah-nah-nee-boo-boo. Even under the best of circumstances, we humans love nothing more than to say, “Told you so.” As Kathryn Schulz writes in “Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error,” it’s basically a way of saying, “Not only was I right, I was also right about being right.”

But it is also through recognizing our errors, Schulz points out, that we learn, change and grow. A simple message, yes, but an impossibly urgent one right now. For those who’ve dismissed or downplayed the threat of the coronavirus, now is a good time to reconsider that position. And for those who’ve prayed for such a conversion, now is a good time simply to be thankful, and not to judge.

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