Fox News host Jesse Watters encouraged an audience of young right-wing activists to “ambush” Dr. Anthony Fauci with a rhetorical “deadly” “kill shot” while describing a gotcha question they could ask Fauci based on a conspiracy theory about the origins of COVID-19.
Watters’ comments come as Fox News has led an unprecedented wave of attacks against a leading public health figure. Fox News personalities have attacked Fauci over 400 times just since February 22, according to a Media Matters analysis of Fox’s weekday programming. These attacks can often feature violent rhetoric, as Fox personalities have likened Fauci to historical dictators and Nazis, fearmongered about a “medical deep state,” suggested Fauci should be subject to criminal investigation, and falsely accused him of creating the coronavirus.
While Watters might defend his exhortations (his allies already are), he also really ought to know better from his own professional history. Over 10 years ago, when Watters was a producer for disgraced Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, the show engaged in a long pattern of incitement against George Tiller, a Kansas doctor who performed abortions. This included an instance of Watters staging an ambush interview of Tiller’s lawyer, and fellow O’Reilly producer Porter Barry performing a similar ambush interview on Tiller himself. Tiller was later murdered in 2009, while he was at his church.
In addition, the venue where Watters made this latest comment must be considered. He was speaking at the “AmericaFest” event organized by Turning Point USA. This is the organization founded and run by right-wing provocateur Charlie Kirk, who has run a relentless anti-vaccine campaign, including during his appearances on Fox News. Kirk’s events have previously seen incitements to political violence (including yesterday), and his organization was also linked to the January 6 insurrection.
Watters encouraged audience members to publicly confront Fauci, should he ever come to their college campuses, with the false claim that Fauci was responsible for the creation of COVID-19 in a Chinese lab. (The conspiracy theory has been promoted by multiple Fox News hosts including Maria Bartiromo, Steve Hilton, and Tucker Carlson.)
Fauci responded on Tuesday morning’s edition of CNN’s New Day, calling out Fox News for the likelihood that it was “not going to do anything” about Watters.
About three weeks ago, Fox Nation host Lara Logan compared Fauci to the Nazi war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele. At the time, Fauci called the comparison “unconscionable” and an “insult to all of the people who suffered and died under the Nazi regime in the concentration camps.” Logan, meanwhile, tweeted further attacks at Fauci for his past research on AIDS drugs and amplified another user’s tweet attacking the Auschwitz Museum for having condemned her remarks.
Since then, Logan has apparently been absent from Fox’s on-air programming. But Fox has not taken any similar measures with Watters, at least not so far. Instead of holding Watters accountable, Fox has posted Watters’ speech on its own Fox Nation site and promoted a link to it on Twitter.
Other attacks against Fauci on the network have included:
- Fox guest Victor Davis Hanson: Fauci is “more like a monarch.” [Media Matters, 12/2/21]
- Fox Nation host Lara Logan likened Fauci to Nazi monster Josef Mengele. On Fox News’ Fox News Primetime, Logan claimed, “This is what people say to me, that [Fauci] doesn't represent science to them. He represents Josef Mengele, Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who did experiments on Jews during the Second World War and in the concentration camps.” [Media Matters, 11/29/21]
- Fox News host Tucker Carlson called Fauci “an even shorter version of Benito Mussolini.” [Media Matters, 11/29/21]
- Fox’s Maria Bartiromo and guest Scott Atlas suggested that Fauci is part of a “cabal” of “very powerful people in science who are at the NIH.” Atlas added, “They control the money, they control the scientific funding, they control the careers of everyone.” [Sunday Morning Futures, 11/21/21]
- Fox News repeatedly smeared Fauci with a false story that his agency funded an experiment that killed dogs. These Fox personalities included Watters and Carlson, Fox contributor Lara Trump, a guest on Fox & Friends First, and FoxNews.com. [Media Matters, 11/9/21]
- Carlson falsely claimed Fauci “created COVID.” [Twitter, 7/28/21]
- Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett called for “a criminal investigation of Fauci.” [Media Matters, 6/24/21]
- After calling for Fauci to be investigated, Carlson then complained that he had not been indicted. [Twitter, 6/2/21 and 6/14/21]
- Watters accused Fauci of helping to rig the 2020 presidential election. [Twitter, 6/2/21]
- Carlson suggested that Fauci was personally responsible for the pandemic. [Twitter, 5/10/21]
- On Fox News Primetime, guest Peter Navarro called COVID-19 the “Fauci virus.” [Twitter, 3/30/21]
- Fox guest Heather Mac Donald: “We become serfs” under Fauci’s guidelines, and “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.” [Media Matters, 2/24/21]
- Fox host Laura Ingraham delivered a lengthy monologue attacking Fauci and other medical experts as being part of an Orwellian tyranny. [Media Matters, 2/24/21]
- Fox host Steve Hilton also suggested that Fauci was responsible for creation of the coronavirus. [Media Matters, 1/26/21]
- An Ingraham Angle graphic labeled Fauci one of the “medical tyrants.” [Twitter, 12/16/20]
- Carlson called Fauci a “hypocritical buffoon.” [Twitter, 12/2/20]
- Carlson claimed “the message couldn’t be clearer” that “your former kids belong to Toni Fauci now. Tony Fauci — America’s parent.” [Twitter, 11/30/20]
- Then-Fox Business host Lou Dobbs accused Fauci of being on “a jihad of sorts against the Trump presidency.” [Media Matters, 11/12/20]
- Ingraham on Fauci suggesting shutdowns to slow down the spread of COVID-19: “I hear that, and my blood boils.” [Media Matters, 7/13/20]
- Ingraham called Fauci part of “the medical deep state.” [Media Matters, 6/15/20]
- Carlson called Fauci an “elderly power-drunk epidemiologist.” [Media Matters, 5/1/20]
- Carlson said Fauci was advocating for “national suicide” by recommending shutdowns. [Media Matters, 4/3/20]