Fox News scrambled over the weekend to handle the news that President Donald Trump was hospitalized for coronavirus — and to stop any criticism that his own personal flouting of safety guidelines might have had anything to do with it.
It is now widely believed that the previous weekend’s public rollout at the White House for Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court may have been the event that spread the disease, based on the timeline of positive test results for many of the attendees. The event was also notable for the irresponsible behaviors among those present — with a large crowd, very few masks being worn, and much physical contact.
But one message was repeated over and over this weekend on Fox News: Even talking about Trump’s behavior that seemingly led to these infections is just plain wrong. And, they even say, it’s an insult to the suffering of all those people out there who‘ve gotten the virus — an interesting point to come from a network that has barely talked about the pandemic’s rising death toll, instead complaining about the public health restrictions meant to keep those numbers down.
Fox & Friends Weekend played a montage on Saturday of media criticism over Trump’s behavior and the White House’s overall lack of credibility in telling the public what was going on. The montage ended with CNN anchor Jake Tapper saying, “President Trump, in quarantine, has become a symbol of his own failures.”
Co-host Will Cain replied: “If you have a political narrative, I’m sure you’ll be able to find the ability to make that point,” and exhorted viewers not to trust those other media outlets.
In a later discussion between Cain and Fox News contributor Byron York, the talking point emerged that to attack Trump for contracting the coronavirus — after months of his repeatedly downplaying the dangers and dismissing public health measures — was also to attack so many other Americans who have become infected.
And on Fox’s seemingly more serious, “straight news” side, anchor Bill Hemmer and MediaBuzz host Howard Kurtz also declared such discussions in the media to be beyond the pale — even if it was a legitimate topic.
“The overwhelming reaction has been to blame President Trump and the White House for what they see as reckless behavior, particularly on masks,” said Kurtz. “Now, there are a lot of legitimate questions to be asked on that front, ut there is a kind of an ‘I told you so’ tone to some of the commentary, a sort of piling on while the president is hospitalized. And if that continues, there could be a backlash against the media.”
A similar discussion occurred again during Fox & Friends Weekend on Sunday, with Cain defending last weekend’s event in the White House Rose Garden and claiming that “[Supreme Court Justice] Ruth Bader Ginsburg memorial hasn’t received that kind of criticism, protests in the street haven’t received that kind of criticism.” Co-host Pete Hegseth agreed, adding, “George Floyd’s funeral didn’t receive that kind of criticism.” (Hegseth himself was doing this weekend’s shows while self-isolating at home after he was one of the attendees at the Barrett nomination rollout.)
Hegseth — who had previously called for a “military mindset” among people going into danger in order to reopen public spaces during the pandemic — reiterated the idea that to blame Trump would be to blame those who were infected, instead of praising the president for his strength and risk-taking.
“And what I love about this president — it's a military principle — you never ask your men and women, your soldiers, to do something you wouldn't be willing to do yourself,” said Hegseth. “He's been someone who’s taken the virus seriously, but at the same time he's led from the front, and said, ‘I'm not going to hide in my basement, I’m going to do the necessary work of the American people.’ And they respect someone who takes that approach as far as a risk threshold.”
On that afternoon’s edition of MediaBuzz, Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway responded to a clip from Tuesday’s debate, during which Trump mocked Democratic nominee Joe Biden for wearing masks all the time in public, to declare that the press was taking “too much of a side” on issues surrounding lockdowns, including whether to “have people be masked constantly.”
And on Sunday night’s edition of The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton, Fox Nation host Tammy Bruce said: “If they're going to mock him, and he's at fault, so are those 7 million Americans who were infected also at fault? Gov. [Ralph] Northam of Virginia — master of the lockdowns, masks 24/7 — he and his wife are infected. So are they at fault?”
Host Steve Hilton previously said in July that increases in coronavirus cases as lockdown regulations were eased was “actually good news,” and the reopenings should be sped up rather than slowed down, a talking point he continued into August. This past Friday, when the news of Trump’s diagnosis was announced, Hilton said that Trump “himself will be a metaphor for the recovery of the country.”
As for whether talk about Trump’s own behavior will cause any kind of “backlash” among the American public — or be perceived as an insult to the millions who have contracted the disease — an ABC News/Ipsos poll over the weekend found that 72% of respondents said Trump did not take seriously enough the risks of contracting the disease, nor did he take “the appropriate precautions when it came to his personal health.”