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How President Trump's False Claims Can Affect Society


Yesterday on "Fox & Friends," President Trump made a claim about COVID-19 that is not true. Facebook and Twitter took steps to remove the video from their platforms. That has already been reported, but what about Fox News itself? Joining us now is NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.

Hi, David.


SHAPIRO: Let's begin with what this false statement was that the president made on Fox News.

FOLKENFLIK: Right. And I can't say clearly enough what he said is not supported by science, not supported by statistics. But the president was making the argument that children basically don't get COVID-19, and therefore they should be allowed to go to school.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It will go away like things go away. And my view is that schools should be open. If you look at children, children are almost - and I would almost say definitely but almost immune from this disease.

FOLKENFLIK: So just to reiterate, our colleagues on the Science desk have reported on this thoroughly. They say it's just not true. But Trump makes that argument to reopen schools essentially without challenge on "Fox & Friends," although he does get a question about, well, what about elderly teachers and their health? And basically throughout the day, it's treated as part of this large, very affectionate interview he gets. After the Trump official campaign and Trump tweeted the "Fox & Friends" video out and posted on Facebook, the social media platforms started to get a lot of questions about whether those actions violated their policies.

SHAPIRO: So it was notable that Facebook said the video had to come down, that Twitter locked out the Trump campaign account until it removed the video. But as for Fox News, what was the reaction there?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, today, "Fox & Friends" focused on the perceived outrage that articulated from the president, the White House on down, that Silicon Valley is censoring the president. They put it in this larger context of purported anti-Trump and anti-conservative sentiment. But I got to say, if we've learned anything about Facebook, first, it tends to act reluctantly. This is the first Trump video put out by the president or his associate accounts that's been pulled down, at least regarding COVID, despite a bunch of previously unfounded assertions.

Secondly, Facebook almost invariably acts in response to embarrassing questions and published reports by outside news organizations rather than on its own impetus. And third, I got to say, you know, reporting by BuzzFeed, among others, really suggests that Facebook has bent over backwards not to act against the president, not to act against his conservative (ph) allies despite what they may perceive.

SHAPIRO: So after the somewhat defensive response of "Fox & Friends," there was another aspect of the way Fox News handled the story, which was earlier today an anchor, Sandra Smith, pressed White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on the issue repeatedly. It sounded like this.


SANDRA SMITH: So is it helpful for the president to tell parents that children are nearly immune from this and then have it factually spreading child to child in places like Mississippi where they've opened the doors to their schools?

SHAPIRO: David, what about that?

FOLKENFLIK: And Smith, who's a news anchor at Fox, was able to point to a recent interview she did with the governor of Mississippi attesting to that. It is true, look, that a day late and on a different show and one with a far smaller audience seemingly you saw the president's adviser being held to account on this. I asked Fox News for comment about this conversation that we're having now; the channel declined. They would say if you allowed that it's hard to fact-check the president real time.

This isn't, though, the first time Trump has made these claims. It's notable the president did do so live or even later in the day yesterday but on a different show, a smaller show, a smaller audience and a different audience may be distinct from its opinion shows to draw a far bigger audience. So the audience of "Fox & Friends" don't get exposed to that rigorous questioning we just heard from Sandra Smith, and among those viewers, President Trump himself.

SHAPIRO: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.