One of the most amusing recent moments in our politics — in a morbid sort of way — came when certain Fox News personalities lurched from declaring the novel coronavirus a hoax designed to destroy President Trump to proclaiming that the gravity of the threat was showcasing Trump’s heroic leadership amid a crisis.

You’d think that would prove an embarrassment to the “fair and balanced” network. But whether it did or not, those efforts in making that former case appear to have worked, in one sense: Fox News viewers still appear to believe the media is hyping the virus.

And that’s probably something that will help Trump politically.

This is starkly illustrated by data just released by Pew Research, which shows that a huge majority of people who name Fox News as their leading news source believe this.

The Pew numbers — which are from a March 10 to 16 poll of U.S. adults — finds stark differences in views of the pandemic among primary watchers of Fox, CNN and MSNBC. For instance, far fewer Fox viewers correctly believe the virus originated in nature, and somewhat fewer accurately state that a vaccine will be available in a year or more.

But for our purposes here, this finding is striking:

The Fox News group stands out on another media evaluation question: whether the media have exaggerated the risks of the coronavirus outbreak. Roughly eight-in-ten (79 percent) of those whose main source is Fox News say the media slightly or greatly exaggerated the risk of the pandemic, with only 15 percent saying they got the risks about right.

That’s striking: Nearly eight in 10 in the Fox group say the media has exaggerated coronavirus risks. By contrast, only 35 percent in the MSNBC group say this, while 54 percent in the CNN group do — which is high, but not nearly comparable with the Fox group.

What’s troubling about this is that as a general matter, the media mostly got it right in drawing intense and urgent attention to the coronavirus early on in a manner that Trump and his media allies did not.

That is plainly obvious at this point, now that U.S. confirmed cases have topped 200,000 and confirmed U.S. deaths have risen above 4,500. Yet Fox viewers still think the media has exaggerated the risks.

Or, to be fair, that’s what they believed as of mid-March. We’ll see if that changes. It’s certain that a large majority still believes this.

Let’s not forget this: For weeks, Fox News personalities told Fox viewers not just that the coronavirus was being exaggerated, but also that the media was doing this deliberately to harm Trump. Indeed, as this Media Matters roundup shows, their claim was frequently that this was rooted in Trump hatred.

Trump may think he can sugarcoat coronavirus, but media critic Erik Wemple says it is time for the government to speak with one clear voice about public health. (The Washington Post)

It’s worth stressing that in saying this, Fox personalities echoed Trump himself. In late February, the president openly accused the media of conspiring with Democrats to hype coronavirus to rattle the markets, which he views as crucial to his reelection, even as he claimed that the country was in “great shape.”

And in mid-March, Trump lashed out in a very public way at PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor for daring to press him on the disbanding on his watch of the White House pandemic office. This sent a signal that any efforts to hold him accountable for his response to the crisis should all be seen as Fake News.

What’s so galling about all this is not just that the news media drew attention to the urgent threat of coronavirus in a manner that Trump himself refused to do for nakedly political reasons. It’s also that in so doing — and in holding Trump to account for the government’s failures — the media actually pushed him to a far more constructive place for the country, and for himself.

Indeed, now that the president’s at this place, Fox News personalities like Sean Hannity have hailed his heroism and supreme competence!

The ultimate irony here is that in spite of all this, the continued belief among many Fox watchers that the media is exaggerating the risks of the coronavirus might help Trump. Since the media will continue to hold him accountable for his failures as the consequences mount, to whatever degree people think the media is exaggerating these matters — or worse, that the media is conspiring to destroy him — it might minimize the political damage.

Read more: