Fox News has joined the latest round of the right-wing online campaign seeking to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. At the heart of this campaign is really an ongoing rebellion against health measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether in requirements for the public or even precautions by individuals.
Among Fauci’s latest pronouncements that have upset the right-wing media, he has cautioned people against visiting vaccinated elderly relatives — as an unvaccinated individual could still contract the virus — and called for vaccinated individuals to still wear masks “until we have the overwhelming majority of people vaccinated” because they “could still harbor the potentially deadly virus in their nose and transmit it to others.” He also said it was “possible” that Americans might still have to wear masks into 2022, depending on a set of evolving facts. (He explained that signs are optimistic for the vaccines providing enough of a protective barrier against emerging COVID-19 variants and slowing down their spread.)
In the eyes of right-wing media, these comments are an excuse for a new round of temper tantrums, conspiratorial accusations — and calls for defiance.
Don’t like the expert advice? “Fire Fauci.”
The Twitter hashtag “#FireFauci” trended on Tuesday, driven heavily by a group of current and former Fox News commentators.
And while Diamond and Silk were fired from Fox News last year after spreading COVID-19 conspiracy theories and are now with Fox’s far-right competitor Newsmax — current Fox contributor Lisa Boothe’s tweets are now even worse than theirs on this particular hashtag, making the accusation that Fauci “very clearly exploited a crisis for his own ego and pursuit of stardom.”
The goal: Undermining public health measures with calls for “mask boycotts” and to “sideline” Fauci.
Perhaps the single most illustrative example in Fox’s coverage this week has come from Fox contributor Katie Pavlich, who has been making her turn auditioning for the host slot of the new Fox News Primetime opinion show slot. And in both of her episodes so far, Pavlich and her guests have targeted Fauci with all manner of conspiratorial invective.
“I'm just going to say if I get the vaccine, I'm not wearing a mask. I think that this is cruel for them to continue to tell people that they can no longer go about their lives even if they have the vaccine,” Pavlich told guest Heather Mac Donald on Monday night. She also added, “Dr. Fauci hasn't been accountable for changing his statements on these issues and not following the science when the president of the United States said that he would.”
“We become serfs,” Mac Donald said, then called for “mask boycotts” and to form protective lines of people around restaurants that reopen, so that police could not arrest the owners: “People have to have civil disobedience against a regime that is scientifically groundless and is merely a power grab to keep everybody in terror and dependent.”
“‘Scientifically groundless’ is the key there,” Pavlich said approvingly — though neither she nor Mac Donald have degrees in any physical science. This attack that Fauci’s proposals are somehow “unscientific” would later be echoed by others on Fox, despite the network’s own role in pushing medical misinformation during the pandemic.
And on Tuesday night, Pavlich railed against Fauci as being unconcerned with bringing life back to normal — and accused him of enjoying the publicity and wanting the pandemic to continue: “That's going to take a long time, but that's fine with Fauci. The longer the pandemic exists, the more he gets to talk to the media. And after all, who will put him on InStyle magazine when the pandemic’s over?”
In the discussion that immediately followed, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume declared: “I don’t recall his ever saying much, if anything, about children’s health or children’s education or the effect on the economy or any of these things. I don’t think he purports to be an expert on those things, he just seems to disregard them. And I guess, to be fair to him, I would only say that that's not his territory. And that's why in a situation like this, when they talk about, you know, ‘follow the science,’ the question becomes, well, which science? Economics is a science. Cardiology is a branch of science. All those things are sciences.”
Fox host Laura Ingraham, who has been one of the network’s top spreaders of pandemic misinformation as well as conspiracy theories about progressives using the pandemic as a plot to assert social control, delivered a lengthy monologue on Monday attacking Fauci and other medical experts as being part of an Orwellian tyranny — and that he must be removed from his position of authority.
“It doesn't matter if you've gotten the vaccine, if you've already had the virus and recovered, if you're 5 or 15 or 50 years old,” Ingraham warned. “Unless Fauci is sidelined, your mask will be your BFF for a very, very long time.” (Though it might seem odd for Ingraham to tout a potentially successful vaccine rollout — she has previously teamed up with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to push anti-vax conspiracy theories, as well.)
Fox hosts — and the network’s “news side” — use Meghan McCain’s complaints as a further springboard to attack Fauci.
Over on ABC’s chat show The View, co-host Meghan McCain complained about the vaccine rollout: “The fact that I, Meghan McCain, co-host of The View, don’t know when or how I will be able to get a vaccine because the rollout for my age range and my health is so nebulous, I have no idea when and how I get it.” She then declared, “I’m over Dr. Fauci,” and suggested that “the Biden administration should remove him and put someone in place that does understand science or can talk like these other countries about how we can be more like these other places that are doing this successfully.”
And while McCain was roasted on Twitter for these remarks, Fox News hosts saw it as an opportunity to claim that there was a wider, mounting backlash against Fauci — and against his safety recommendations.
Fox prime-time host Sean Hannity used McCain’s remarks as a news hook of sorts that night, in order to set up a long anti-Fauci hit piece.
“Now, Dr. Anthony Fauci tonight continues to be under fire for contradictions, getting things wrong, inconsistent directives, flat-out doom and gloom,” Hannity said. “Just listen to Meghan McCain today on The View.”
Hannity later had a discussion with Fox News contributor Dan Bongino, who complained that Fauci “is part of this burgeoning movement, this unscientific movement in this country,” adding that society had “thrown all risk analysis out the window. … You drive to work, you jump on a plane. People do all kinds of things. They leave in the middle of flu season. They walked outside of their house. They are determined to take on that risk in their life because the reward of going to work outweighs that risk.”
And during Fox’s purported “news”-side programming on Tuesday, Special Report with Bret Baier also highlighted McCain’s complaints against Fauci regarding the ability for unvaccinated people to visit vaccinated relatives.
“Dr. Fauci's messaging on face masks has also been inconsistent as the pandemic has progressed,” Fox correspondent Kristin Fisher added, before showing some old clips that initially discouraged widespread mask usage — though in fact, Fauci explained last year that this early advice on masks changed as new details soon emerged on the propensity for asymptomatic spread of the virus.