Fox News Host’s Incendiary Fauci Comments Follow a Network Pattern
The Fox News host Jesse Watters used notably violent language this week in urging a gathering of conservatives to publicly confront Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s foremost infectious-disease specialist, who has become a frequent source of criticism on the political right.
Referring to tabloid-style surprise interviews, Mr. Watters said in a speech that activists should “ambush” Dr. Fauci with adversarial questions that he deemed “the kill shot.” Describing the imagined effect of such a filmed confrontation, Mr. Watters added: “Boom! He is dead! He is dead! He’s done!”
Dr. Fauci called the comments “horrible” in an interview with CNN and said Mr. Watters “should be fired on the spot.”
Fox News has not disciplined Mr. Watters for the remarks. The network said in a statement that the comments were “twisted completely out of context” and that “it’s more than clear that Jesse Watters was using a metaphor for asking hard-hitting questions to Dr. Fauci.”
The host’s amped-up language was in keeping with the tone of prominent conservative figures, who for months have routinely and casually referred to Dr. Fauci in bracingly derogatory terms.
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Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who is widely viewed as a leader of the Republican Party, referred to Dr. Fauci as a “Covid authoritarian” in a fund-raising email this week. “We cannot allow our communities to become Faucian dystopias in which people’s freedoms are curtailed and their livelihoods destroyed,” the DeSantis campaign wrote.
Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, described Dr. Fauci as “the most dangerous bureaucrat in the history of the country” during a Fox News interview last month. On Wednesday, Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, said on Fox News: “The American people want safe streets, affordable gas and freedom, and the Biden administration has given us record crime, record inflation and Dr. Fauci.”
In April, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, introduced the Fire Fauci Act, a bill that, among other measures, would strip Dr. Fauci of his salary. (It has not progressed in Congress.) Former President Donald J. Trump has called Dr. Fauci “a radical masker” and questioned the doctor’s efforts to combat the pandemic.
Dr. Fauci, who turns 81 on Friday, has directed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. He is highly respected for his decades of work on pandemics, including the spread of AIDS in the 1980s. He became a household name in 2020 as a leading spokesman for the government’s coronavirus response. But Mr. Trump grew to distrust him while in office, and conservatives now often blame him for their concerns about the handling of the pandemic.
In an interview with The New York Times in September, Dr. Fauci spoke about the harassment and threats that he and his family, including his children, had received from “radical extreme right individuals,” including hundreds of emails and text messages with violent language accusing the doctor of being “a killer.”
“It’s all part of what you’re seeing in the intense, fiercely intense polarization that we’re seeing in the country,” Dr. Fauci said in September.
Fox News is a frequent venue for the criticism, and where the doctor is occasionally referred to as “Lord Fauci.” The network’s highest-rated hosts often depict him as an authoritarian determined to strip Americans of basic freedoms. Tucker Carlson has claimed that Dr. Fauci “created Covid,” and accused him of spreading “authoritarian germ hysteria.”
On Oct. 4, Mr. Carlson accused Mr. Fauci of deciding “to unilaterally end Christmas,” in remarks that also included a reference to “sneezing, unvaccinated illegal immigrants coming into this country,” which Mr. Carlson said had contributed to more Covid-19 cases.
Lara Logan, a former CBS News correspondent, used an appearance on Fox News in November to compare Dr. Fauci to Josef Mengele, the notorious Nazi doctor and murderer, prompting a rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League. Since then, Ms. Logan has not appeared on Fox News or the streaming platform Fox Nation.
Dr. Fauci, who once appeared fairly regularly on Fox News to discuss the government response to the pandemic, called Ms. Logan’s comments “unconscionable.” He has been mostly absent from the network of late, though he appeared with the anchor Neil Cavuto on Dec. 3; Mr. Cavuto contracted Covid in October and has urged his viewers to be vaccinated.
Mr. Watters has gone about his job as usual since the uproar over his remarks, which he made on Monday. On Wednesday, he guest-hosted Mr. Carlson’s program, the highest-rated show on cable news; during the appearance, Mr. Watters referred to Dr. Fauci as “his holiness.”
Still, the pandemic has had some impact on Mr. Watters and his fellow stars of the Fox News afternoon talk show “The Five.” The hosts taped the show on Wednesday from separate locations, rather than in the same New York studio, because of increasing fears over the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which prompted Fox News to declare its Manhattan office off limits to unvaccinated employees.
The network had previously allowed those employees to work in its office as long as they tested negative. Fox News attributed the change to new city requirements recently issued by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.