Fox News reportedly fears its early downplaying of COVID-19 leaves it open to lawsuits

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Fox Business announced Friday that it has "parted ways" with Trish Regan, a prime time host who gained notoriety for suggesting on her March 9 show that the COVID-19 coronavirus was a politically motivated "scam." The decision "took some journalists and anchors at the network by surprise," The New York Times reports, because "Fox executives are accustomed to withstanding public pressure, and rarely make personnel moves that can be construed as validating criticisms of the network."

Fox Business wished Regan the best and said the network "will continue our reduced live primetime schedule for the foreseeable future" to focus on "the coronavirus crisis." On MNSBC Sunday morning, Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman said ousting Regan appears to be part of a larger effort to limit legal liability tied to the disconnect between Fox's public and private responses to the pandemic.

In early March, "Fox News tried to do their original playbook, which was dismiss it as a hoax, say that this is another partisan attempt by Democrats to hurt Donald Trump, and this was the case where they could not prevent reality," Sherman said. "Fox News is a very powerful media organization, but it cannot stop people from dropping dead." He added:

When I've been talking to Fox insiders over the last few days, there's a real concern inside the network that their early downplaying of the coronavirus actually exposes Fox News to potential legal action by viewers who maybe were misled and actually have died from this. I've heard Trish Regan's being taken off the air is, you know, reflective of this concern that Fox News is in big trouble by downplaying this virus. ... I think this is a case where Fox's coverage, if it actually winds up being proved that people died because of it, this is a new terrain in terms of Fox being possibly held liable for their actions. [Gabriel Sherman, MSNBC]

Whether Fox's coverage of the coronavirus hurts Fox, it has helped Trump, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted March 19-24.

Pew surveyed 11,537 panelists and the margin of sampling error for that full sample is ±1.5 percentage points.

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