The conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh is under fire for spreading misinformation about the novel coronavirus to millions of his listeners.
Limbaugh falsely claimed the coronavirus was "a common cold" being "weaponized" to take down President Donald Trump, who recently awarded him a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Limbaugh accused the Chinese government of using the disease to take aim at the US economy.
The novel coronavirus has swept across the globe, infecting more than 80,000 people with COVID-19 and taking 2,600 lives. While China remains the center of the outbreak, the epidemic is on the verge of breaking into a full-blown pandemic. As the World Health Organization tells countries to prepare for infections, the popular conservative host Rush Limbaugh on Monday revealed to listeners what he claimed to be the "truth" about the "overhyped" coronavirus.
"It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump," Limbaugh said. "Yeah, I'm dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks."
The Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient then went on a 10-minute diatribe that observers called "reckless," airing debunked conspiracy theories and misinformation about the disease to millions of his listeners.
Limbaugh began his tirade by resurfacing a widely debunked conspiracy theory that the coronavirus is a Chinese biological weapon that leaked from a government lab in the city of Wuhan — a false narrative that was also shared by GOP Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
He then speculated about an elaborate scheme by the Chinese government in which it "weaponized" the virus "by virtue of the media," which he accused of overhyping the deadliness of COVID-19.
"It's really being hyped as a deadly Andromeda Strain or Ebola pandemic that, 'Oh, my God, is going to wipe out the nation. It's going to wipe out the population of the world,'" Limbaugh said. "It's exactly how the media deals with these things to create audience, readership, interest, clicks, what have you."
Though Limbaugh was correct in suggesting the flu is a greater health threat in the US than the coronavirus, he downplayed the threat of the coronavirus.
Public-health officials are concerned about the containment of the virus, for which there is no vaccine. It also remains unclear exactly how the disease is transmitted, though it is thought to be spread mainly from person to person, according to the WHO. COVID-19 has rapidly spread to at least 37 countries with 53 cases in the US, including 36 passengers from a quarantined cruise ship in Japan.
He also accused news organizations of using the death of the whistleblower Li Wenliang, a doctor who raised alarms about the virus in the early days of the outbreak, to instill fear in their audiences and claimed the spread of the virus was a Chinese tactic meant to destroy the American economy.
"It's to scare people into leaving, cashing out of the stock market," Limbaugh said. "So losing a few people here or there is not so bad for the Chinese government." Limbaugh ended the segment stoking Cold War-era fears, falsely accusing the presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who identifies as a democratic socialist, of trying to turn America into a "mirror image" of "Communist China."
At least one conservative pundit responded to Limbaugh's claims with criticism. Charlie Sykes, who founded the conservative site Bulwark, called Limbaugh's diatribe on the coronavirus "stunningly reckless."
—Charlie Sykes (@SykesCharlie) February 25, 2020
While Twitter directs users to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for accurate information about COVID-19, Facebook has vowed to actively take down misinformation on its platform.
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