Fox News commentator Bre Payton reportedly died after contracting the H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu — nine years after her own network questioned whether the government response to the deadly virus amounted to “hysteria.”
The conservative writer and Fox News commentator died days after falling gravely ill during the week. As the Associated Press reported, the 26-year-old had grown suddenly ill with the H1N1 virus and “possibly meningitis.” Her death prompted an outpouring of sympathies from fellow media figures, but also shed a light on the past efforts of Fox News to cast doubt on the government response during a 2009 outbreak of the Swine Flu.
Back in 2009, the network reported on rumors originating on far-right blogs and conspiracy theory sites that the Obama administration was planning to declare martial law and issue “compulsory vaccinations” to the flu. Though none of the measures were ever actually proposed, Fox News columnist Katie Cobb wrote a story questioning whether such measures would amount to “hysteria.”
“It’s the stuff of Hollywood — but rumors that it could be real are spreading like the flu in the blogosphere, where some people are loudly expressing their fears that the federal government is seriously considering such measures as it maps out a worst-case-scenario response to the swine flu pandemic,” Cobb wrote.
Cobb went on to quote a far-right blogger who questioned whether the imagined response to the swine flu amounted to the “establishment of a police state” by President Barack Obama. She also pointed to foreign government plans to combat the epidemic and questioned whether it would lead to martial law in those countries as well.
“But — even if such severe measures were in the planning stage — would they amount to hysteria? Or would they be prudent precautions?” she wrote.
I'm told that people who saw Bre Payton just days ago said she seemed healthy on Wednesday. She was only 26 years old; a tragic reminder going into 2019 that life is a very precious thinghttps://t.co/epWhW3VNvX— Jon Levine (@LevineJonathan) December 28, 2018
But Cobb also quoted military and government experts who painted the rumors as far-fetched and noted that the worst-case scenarios were reserved only in the case of a true national emergency that included widespread deaths. Though the effort appeared to debunk some of the most fringe conspiracy theories regarding government overreaches, the network has also taken criticism for giving sites like Infowars — which Cobb quoted in her article — a larger platform to spread these theories in the name of criticizing Barack Obama.
Bre Payton’s death was mourned by many at Fox News, including network host Shannon Bream who called the 26-year-old a “beautiful light, smart and funny and kind and talented.”