The Federalist’s Coronavirus Coverage Is a Dangerous Joke

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).


In its coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, The Federalist, the right-wing opinion column shop headed by disgraced plagiarist and Malaysian government propagandist Ben Domenech and writer Sean Davis​, has ​effectively show​n the world precisely why it should not be taken seriously as a publication.

Appearing to willfully spread misinformation in its columns and on national radio and broadcast programs, the publication does more than just a disservice to its audience—it’s straight-out dangerous.

Little could have made the point more obvious than the site’s conduct during the coronavirus outbreak. Since Monday, The Federalist has been pummeled with criticism for publishing misleading and dangerous material in the midst of a pandemic that has the potential to kill millions of Americans if left unchecked. The Daily Beast called The Federalist’s coronavirus coverage “an astonishing low” for the website.

One would think that The Federalist would take the coronavirus more seriously since the publication has firsthand experience of the ​harm and heartbreak a virus can wreak. In 2018, Federalist staff writer Bre Payton suddenly died at age 26 after being diagnosed with H1N1 flu and meningitis.

After a rough week under public scrutiny, Federalist senior contributor Margot Cleveland published a plea Friday morning that the “reflexive rejection of contrary views as either an ignorant exaggeration (or downplaying) of the danger of the coronavirus must soften.” She continued, “And the arrogant attitude that we or they own the answer and that anyone suggesting alternative responses to the coronavirus must be acting from stupidity, malice, or greed must stop.”

But the articles published by The Federalist this past week do not simply contain, as Cleveland writes, “contrary views.” They are immoral propositions that, if heeded, would worsen the pandemic’s spread and cause additional suffering.

On Monday, Federalist writer Jonathan Ashbach published a column questioning whether social distancing measures implemented by U.S. officials to slow the spread of the coronavirus were worth their trouble. Ashbach engaged in a cost-benefit analysis of whether ​the United States “might be better off letting a few hundred thousand people die” from the coronavirus​ rather than endure business closures and event cancellations.

Douglas Perednia, who Vice News identified as ​an unlicensed dermatologist ​and who The Federalist called “a physician in Portland, Oregon,” argued in a Wednesday column that social distancing ​measures to mitigate the virus’ spread “is like asking society to hold its breath to keep from inhaling a toxin.”

Instead, Perednia suggested that people “deliberately contract COVID-19 in a socially and medically responsible way so they become immune to the disease.” The suggestion that people voluntarily infect themselves with ​the coronavirus runs counter to the advice of medical professionals.

Twitter temporarily locked the conservative outlet’s account Wednesday after it posted a link to Perednia’s article. Mediaite reported that Twitter initially added a warning that the post linked to “unsafe” material before temporarily locking the account for violating Twitter’s policies regarding COVID-19. Peredina later told Mediaite that The Federalist made multiple style changes to his column without telling him.

On Friday, the site published a column suggesting that people gargle saltwater as a “proactive step to kill the Wuhan coronavirus.” ​The Federalist has aggressively supported the Trump administration’s insistence that the coronavirus be called the “Wuhan​ virus” or “Chinese​ virus​,​​” ​which further​ supports the administration’s attacks on China, despite ​contrary​ advice from ​health experts.​

The column, authored by ​Bradley F. Bale, a Texas Tech University professor, and David J. Vigerust, the president of a health care company, argues that a saltwater gargle could “assist in stopping the pandemic.” Even the article acknowledges that the World Health Organization has stated that no evidence exists to prove ​that saltwater could assist in stopping the pandemic​, but ​the authors write​ that “there have been no double-blind prospective trials” that could prove​ their thesis correct. The article also includes a saltwater solution recipe.

These columns would be more shocking if The Federalist had managed to ever operate as a serious publication, despite ​its insistence that it be treated as such​ and mainstream media’s apparent acquiescence. Staffers from The Federalist still routinely appear on major media broadcast programs as right-wing sycophants arguing absurd positions.

As journalist Matthew Sheffield explained in a Twitter thread Wednesday, The Federalist has for years​ engaged in the type of dangerous extremism that ​ought to have drawn backlash. ​Sheffield pointed out that The Federalist had a racist “black crime” tag on its site—something that Breitbart News faced criticism for in 2016. The Federalist’s podcast Federalist Radio conducted an interview with white nationalist Faith Goldy that was published after she was fired from Rebel Media for appearing on a podcast for the neo-Nazi blog The Daily Stormer.

Right Wing Watch emailed Domenech and Davis for interviews​, but our requests were unreturned at the time of publication.