(Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

Thursday brought us a sober, thoughtful Greg Sheridan column in The Australian — “We know too little of COVID-19 to relax yet” — in which he observes that “the contradictory claims of comment­ators and non-government experts are bewildering”.

He does not specify which commentators or commentary he means, but his words are strikingly applicable to many of his colleagues across News Corp’s Australian outlets.

No one does denialism quite like News Corp, and many of the usual suspects have over the past few months taken the moves they learnt opposing action on climate change or attacking trans kids and simply shifted their focus to efforts to contain COVID-19.

And while, yes, there is a legitimate debate to be had, there is no denying the playbook is open at News.

Minimise, minimise, minimise

Let’s check in on yesterday’s Andrew Bolt:

Under the heading “Bans are the real danger”, Bolt, with his characteristic restraint and nuance, opens:

For the first time in my life, I am frighted of my governments. The coronavirus panic has made it irrational and threatening.

Another common tactic the piece evinces: no one’s died in the areas we’ve locked down, so why are they locked down?

… Not one of these dead caught the virus on the beach or in the sunshine. So why are police fighting this virus on the beaches and not in the nursing homes?

Ah, he’s so close to working out the connection.

Even before his sudden terror at tyrannical government overreach, Bolt had been pushing for an easing of the lockdown measures for weeks. As early as March he argued that the danger of the virus “was wildly exaggerated”.

It is an argument to which he has returned again, and again, and again.

The Australian‘s Adam Creighton has gone to this well many times, arguing on Saturday that “however many lives the more onerous restrictions have saved, the cost is looking enormous and far more than we typically spend to save lives”. 

As many — including stablemate Sheridan — have pointed out, the number of lives saved is almost certainly in the thousands.

But Creighton doesn’t even concede that the virus at it’s worst is all that serious. He gave us probably the defining act of mainstream denialism for this crisis back on April 14:

Even in coronavirus hot spots in Europe and the US, there’s greater chance of being killed in a car accident than being harmed by COVID-19, according to research published last week by Stanford scientist John Ioannidis.

It’s bad, but any and all action would be worse

The primary response of News Corp’s commentariat has been to admit to the seriousness of the disease, while never ceasing to insist what an overreaction the government’s response has been and how it must be eased.

On Wednesday, Rita Panahi admitted Australia’s death rate was much lower than many other countries. BUT “it is worth considering the unintended consequences of the measures being employed to combat a virus that has thus far killed 84 Australians with a median age of 79.5 years”.

Again, News have been doing this for weeks.

On April 5, the Institute of Public Affairs’ Gideon Rozner cropped up on Outsiders on Sky to argue that governments should ease coronavirus restrictions because the cost of an extended shut down would “far outweigh” the toll of virus.

Meanwhile Cory Bernardi pointed out what the response was: socialism, the greatest crime one can be accused of by a Sky News guest.

No bow is too long

Creighton has been the Oz‘s primary warrior on this topic — just as Bernard Lane has been on gender related reporting — adding to his hits on Wednesday with commentary that World Health Organisation advice from November “makes a mockery” of our strict reactions.

But this was outshone by Creighton’s other piece. According to a new survey people’s willingness to donate blood is down, which suggests, apparently, that “weeks of social isolation have started to fray community-mindedness”.

Extra marks for the certified bananas take from Jennifer Oriel on Monday — “Communists and Islamists plot new world order” — a piece presumably designed to add gravitas to any article criticising the lockdown that couldn’t have been plucked from The New American.

Create a different enemy

Crikey has long catalogued the News Corp lust for holy war — the creation and destruction of one ideological enemy after another, a perfect way to muddy the waters of debate.

Early in the crisis, Dr Norman Swan, one of the ABC’s go-to talking heads on the virus, gave them a perfect target.

News Corp commentator and curmudgeonly half-melted snowman Gerard Henderson went on Bolt’s show to attack Swan’s (and the ABC’s) mixed messaging.

The attacks on Swan had double effect — smearing the ABC’s coverage, and further minimising the virus’s effect. After all, Swan’s dire early predictions about Australia potentially replicating Italy have not worked out as such.

One to keep an eye on in coming days is Victoria’s deputy chief health officer Annaliese van Diemen. Creighton swiftly jumped on a tweet by van Diemen comparing the impact of COVID to the impact of Captain Cook as evidence the state’s lockdown was crafted by “morons”.

Pick your experts

The Oz has also turned to everyone’s favourite climate denialist Bjorn Lomborg — “Money or lives: at some point we must say ‘enough!’” he declared, proving once and for all there’s no expert consensus he won’t oppose for profit.

Professors Ben Mol and Jonathan Karnon (of Monash University and Flinders University, respectively) have also been popular, with both Creighton and Panahi citing their argument that, due to the restrictions, fewer people are presenting with “acute heart problems, stroke and other serious illnesses, which is causing unnecessary deaths”.