Scott Atlas, the right-wing radiologist who vaulted to power because President Donald Trump liked his Fox News appearances, is no longer guiding the federal government’s coronavirus response from the White House. But Fox’s pandemic coverage in the days following his exit from the administration show that his contrarian views are still in vogue at the network, even as the virus surges across the country.
A massive wave of COVID-19 cases is pushing hospital systems past their breaking points and threatening a catastrophic winter death toll, even as the deployment of life-saving vaccines is just weeks away.
In response, governors across the country are desperately implementing new restrictions on business operations in hopes of keeping as many people alive as possible. But Fox is waging a campaign against the public health measures because of their economic cost to small businesses, denouncing them outright rather than pushing for more federal funding to keep owners afloat.
On Sunday, Fox hosts called for business owners and the public at large to defy the new restrictions, often inaccurately characterizing them as a “lockdown.”
“I want to see a lockdown rebellion,” Steve Hilton said, urging “people” and “business owners all over the country” to “rise up together.” He added, “We got to really push this now. We can't accept this any longer.”
“More and more businesses are coming out and saying, ‘We’re going to defy these lockdowns,’” Pete Hegseth said on Fox & Friends Weekend, asking the owners of a New Jersey gym that had stayed open in violation of the state’s regulations, “What’s your advice to them?”
The owners said fellow business owners should “fight for your business and fight for your livelihood” by refusing to follow the rules, adding that they should not worry if they lose their licenses because the regulations will eventually be found unconstitutional. Hegseth concluded the interview by saying, “You guys have been heroes throughout this. You provided leadership for so many and inspiration for many.”
Fox Business host Stuart Varney trumpeted what he called “a growing mood of defiance and revolt” among the owners of restaurants, bars, gyms, and other small businesses later that morning. “I think that revolt may be more organized as we go toward the holiday period” and is “justified,” he added.
Fox kept up that drumbeat throughout the morning on Monday.
Not a lot of daylight between the “news” and “opinion” sides today. pic.twitter.com/GjnfNhbLVI
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) December 7, 2020
“Lockdowns don't work, and lockdowns also have a ramification effect that don't make it worth it in so many ways, and now people beginning to rise up as these lockdowns under another name are beginning to stand out,” Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade offered.
The hosts even touted right-wing law enforcement officials who say they will not enforce coronavirus restrictions.
“One institution … is applying some common sense,” Hegseth said before airing video of Sheriff Chad Bianco of Riverside County, California, saying that his office will ignore “dictatorial” Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order. “Good for them,” Hegseth commented.
Kilmeade offered a softball interview to a different California sheriff who says his office won’t enforce the restrictions, Orange County’s Don Barnes.
This effort will likely continue over the coming weeks, even as COVID-19 deaths rise. Fox commentators lashed out at the “war on Thanksgiving” that public health officials and politicians supposedly waged last month by encouraging people to stay home to stop the virus’s spread. And they’re already gearing up for the Christmas season -- Tucker Carlson said on Thursday that politicians are trying to “cancel” the holiday because they somehow consider it “a threat to them.”
Fox has pushed back hard against public health recommendations throughout the pandemic, warning since March that the “lockdown” cure could be worse than the virus, whose deadliness the network downplayed. Its commentators' bogus narratives won the president’s support, and one of them, Atlas, even came to help lead the federal government’s response. The result has been an untold number of Americans dying unnecessarily.
There is an end in sight. Highly effective vaccines are on the way, with the Trump administration saying that tens of millions will be inoculated by January.
But fewer people will be alive to receive it than could have been.