In just the month of April, Sean Hannity has described the New York Times as a “pathetic dying newspaper” and its writers as “leftist…hacks.” But this week the Fox News host struck up a convenient relationship with Alex Berenson, a former Times reporter who has rebranded as right-wing media’s go-to coronavirus skeptic, given the air of legitimacy his mainstream background provides. It would seem, however, that some of Berenson’s most outré criticisms of the pandemic’s coverage are too extreme even for Hannity, despite the host and informal Trump adviser writing off coronavirus reporting last month as a desperate attempt to scare “the living hell out of people” and “bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.”
“There has been no surge,” Berenson told Hannity on Thursday, as the title “FORMER NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER” blared in his lower third. He continued by insisting that “kids, children, almost anybody under 30 is at no risk to this—no serious risk from this virus,” a comment he made as Fox aired B-roll footage of bedridden COVID-19 patients. “Whoa. Well, Alex, hang on a second,” Hannity interjected. “Whoa, whoa, whoa.… Hold on a second. Alex, that changed in the middle [of March]…. If you look at the hospitalizations in New York, those numbers changed.” Berenson concluded that the press was responsible for the outbreak’s real problems, saying, “We need reporters who are…not just [making] things look as bad as possible.” As the segment came to a close, Hannity made sure to clarify that the views expressed by his guest were not his own: “I like [that] you’re iconoclastic, and you’re definitely making people think…I don’t fully agree with it.” Hannity said before turning to Dr. Mehmet Oz.
Berenson began to garner conservative-media attention last month through lengthy Twitter threads criticizing coronavirus coverage and condemning social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which have led tens of millions of Americans to stay home from work, school, and worship services. His commentary has earned him mentions in The Blaze, the National Review, the Washington Examiner, Breitbart, and the Daily Caller, as well as a lengthy Fox News profile. Lauding him as a “former New York Times reporter” who is “sounding the alarm about what he believes are flawed models dictating the aggressive strategy,” Fox News reporter Adam Shaw described Berenson as “not a known partisan,” but rather a data- and facts-driven savant. “There’s no indication that he’s in this to bash or defend Trump or either political party,” Shaw wrote.
In perhaps the peak of his fame, Berenson was cited by another self-professed “half Democrat, half Republican.” Elon Musk shared Berenson’s theories on the supposed inflation of coronavirus infection rates and death tolls. Weeks prior, Musk had written on Twitter that “the coronavirus panic is dumb.” Berenson’s other coronavirus opinions include claiming “it’s the LOCKDOWN, not the virus, that causes the problems”; calling outbreak-mitigation efforts America’s fifth-worst “policy failure,” just a few notches below “slavery” and one below the Vietnam War; and predicting that the media and health experts will aggressively push “to count every #COVID death, to get the number as high as possible.” He’s also taken shots at his former employer, saying that the Times “has been bizarrely eager to cause panic throughout the last month, and the costs have been very real.” Michael Powell, a current New York Times columnist, called Berenson’s coronavirus ramblings “appallingly obnoxious…in a moment of maximum pain for so many people” in a Tuesday tweet. He added, “There is a path to raise questions and there’s another to be an asshole.”