Facing coronavirus pandemic, Fox News finally learns to love paid sick leave

The coronavirus pandemic has brought a serious health care issue to light: guaranteed paid sick leave for workers, which even the Trump administration is giving some preliminary indications of supporting. In the U.S., where 1 in 4 workers do not have paid sick days, the economic necessity for people to get a paycheck can overwhelm the public’s need for sick people to stay at home.

And now, it seems, even Fox News — whose offices are located in a major city now hit by the virus — is catching on.

Fox News personalities have long expressed opposition to paid sick leave as a government policy, whether at the federal level or all the way down to individual municipalities, often branding it as an “entitlement.”

Back in 2015, Fox Business host Stuart Varney staunchly opposed an Obama administration proposal for workers to be guaranteed one week of paid sick leave on the grounds that the costs would be borne by employers, calling it a political ploy. “This has got nothing to do with ethics. This is all about politics,” Varney said. “The president is lining up all these giveaways.”

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Citation From the January 15, 2015, edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom

But this Tuesday morning on Fox & Friends, Varney appeared to have softened up at least a bit on paid sick leave and other pro-worker proposals — as temporary measures, he insisted. He contrasted himself with Republicans who argue money can’t just be thrown at the problem: “I disagree with that. I think that you don't bail people out as if they have done something wrong. What we’re doing now is helping people who have been caught in this virus scare — through no fault of their own.”

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Citation From the March 10, 2020, edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends

At the same time, Varney tried to distinguish his stance from the response he claimed to expect from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): “What she wants, I'm sure, is paid sick leave as a new entitlement — so that they can go into the election and say, ‘Look what we did for you, look at this, look at this. Paid sick leave on the books.’ I don't think we get that.” (On Varney’s own Fox Business show on Monday, economist Peter Morici declared: “They're going to try to get another social program out of this. We can't let that happen.”)

Other Fox News personalities are finding their own way to advocate for paid sick leave as a public health issue. On Tuesday’s edition of Outnumbered, co-host Melissa Francis explained that paid sick leave “is really important.”

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Citation From the March 10, 2020, edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered

MELISSA FRANCIS (CO-HOST): This isn't locked in stone; this is just what they’re talking about right now and there is still a lot of discussion that needs to be had. They're talking about a payroll tax cut, some targeted stimulus, small business assistance in the form of loans. If your business is going under because you have a restaurant and no one’s come in, they don't want you to go out of business. That sort of thing. Aid to certain distressed industries — you look at the airline industry; they’re going to have some problems. And also, paid leave is really important, because if you have hourly workers that are staying at home because we don't want them spreading the virus, as they should, they shouldn't be penalized and not be able to feed their families because they've stayed home as they were supposed to. Those are good measures.

And earlier, on the Monday edition of Mornings with Maria, Fox Business anchor Dagen McDowell explained that “paid sick leave would help a lot of people in the service industry who live — you know, who are living paycheck to paycheck and they would struggle to pay their bills. You don't want them going to work if they are sick, but a lot of people are left between a rock and a hard place.”

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Citation From the March 9, 2020, edition of Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria

To get an idea of what McDowell usually has to say about government involvement in health care policy, this past October she denounced Medicare for All proposals: “More government control over your health? We've been there. It's called the eugenics movement.”

Of course, these recent reactions from Fox figures ought to raise an obvious question: If paid sick leave is an important public health policy to contain communicable illnesses during a pandemic, then why shouldn’t it also be a valid public health policy in normal times — to ease the burden of workers who fall ill, as Varney pointed out, “through no fault of their own”?