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Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy on Monday morning issued an apology for his show having run with a since-retracted story falsely accusing Nashville’s Democratic mayor of engaging in a coronavirus cover-up, admitting that the mayor did not conceal information from the public as alleged.
Last week, a supposed bombshell by a local Fox affiliate in Nashville set the conservative media ecosystem on fire. According to the report by Fox 17—a Sinclair-owned station—the mayor’s office allegedly covered up numbers that showed relatively low spread of COVID-19 in bars and restaurants. The clear implication of the story was that the city was hiding the data in order to justify its coronavirus lockdown orders on public businesses.
The story, which focused on a selective misreading of emails, was quickly picked up by large right-wing digital outlets such as The Daily Wire and Breitbart and soon found its way to Fox News’ pro-Trump opinion shows. Tucker Carlson—who has become one of the network’s loudest coronavirus skeptics— kicked off his show on Thursday with the story, claiming the Fox 17 report was “conclusive proof” that Nashville officials hid key health stats “for no justifiable reason,” while explicitly calling for Mayor John Cooper’s impeachment.
His Fox primetime colleague Laura Ingraham also jumped on the report, claiming it exposed “a sinister COVID cover-up,” comparing it to something “you’d expect from communist China” or “Soviet Russia.” The following morning, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade insisted the emails were proof that “they lied” while saying Cooper “has to resign yesterday.”
Fox 17’s explosive report, however, was quickly and easily debunked by other media outlets. The data about the low number of cases at the time tied to bars and restaurants was disclosed at a July 2 press conference. A local Nashville reporter also published a story on the numbers back on August 4. Eventually, the station fully retracted the story.
“In a segment that aired earlier this week, we incorrectly asserted that Mayor Cooper's office withheld COVID-19 data from the public, which implied that there had been a cover up,” the station said in a statement. “We want to clarify that we do not believe there was any cover-up, and we apologize for the error and oversight in our reporting.”
“We continue to have questions about the level of transparency that the government showed to the restaurant and bar industry—whose livelihood was on the line,” the statement continued. “As journalists, we will continue to ask those questions and hold elected officials accountable.”
Here's Steve Doocy spending 30 seconds admitting the story they ran last week about a Nashville coronavirus "cover-up" was totally wrong. Fox had used it to demand the mayor's resignation and speculate that similar "cover-ups" are happening everywhere. https://t.co/sH2n25vabz pic.twitter.com/7iTbG2xl4C
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) September 21, 2020
In a brief standalone segment on Monday morning, Doocy addressed the retraction during the first hour of Fox & Friends.
“We wanted to give you update on a story last week,” he noted. “On Friday, we reported on allegations that the mayor of Nashville had hidden coronavirus numbers. That was according to our local Nashville Fox affiliate.”
“They have since retracted their story. And we now know the mayor’s office did apparently not conceal those numbers and did release them to the public and so this morning on this Monday we wanted to apologize for any confusion,” Doocy concluded.
A Fox News spokesperson told The Daily Beast that both Carlson and Ingraham will also be addressing the retracted story on their programs Monday night