Masks work. Fox keeps hosting Alex Berenson to claim they don’t.

Alex Berenson with a Fox News logo

Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters

Martha MacCallum, one of Fox News’ much-touted “straight news” anchors, helped deceive her audience on Wednesday about the effectiveness of face masks in slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 

Author and “Covid Contrarian” Alex Berenson falsely claimed on MacCallum’s The Story that “masks do very little or nothing, that's what the science says.” When Democratic strategist Chris Hahn tried to push back, MacCallum stopped him and told him to let Berenson finish, allowing Berenson to repeat his claim that “masks do very, very little if anything.” After the guests spoke over each other -- with Hahn pointing out that Berenson was “lying to the American people” -- MacCallum closed the segment by telling viewers that “there is going to be a huge amount of retrospective on all of the issues that Alex brings up when all of the science is in on what works and what doesn't work.” 

With MacCallum interceding on Berenson’s side, the takeaway for her audience was clear -- she and her network want viewers to hear his message about the ineffectiveness of masks. After all, Berenson’s comments weren’t an aberration: This was at least the eighth time since the spring that he had used Fox’s platform to undermine mask-wearing -- and the second time this week, following his Monday claim on Tucker Carlson Tonight that masks “may or may not do anything for you.”

Berenson’s entire schtick is using his decade-old credential as a New York Times reporter to offer Fox viewers the hidden knowledge that journalists, public health officials, and Democrats are all lying about the effectiveness of coronavirus recommendations. This may be red meat fare that the network’s right-wing viewers crave. But it is the height of irresponsibility for MacCallum and her Fox brass bosses, from Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch on down, to serve it up to them. 

Fox executives know that masks work. They demand that employees wear them in their shared office spaces and required them of participants in a network town hall earlier this year. The network even aired a public service announcement that featured star host Sean Hannity urging viewers to don them outside their homes. 

And Fox executives know that Berenson’s anti-mask campaign in particular is not credible. New York Times media reporter Ben Smith, in a July profile detailing Berenson’s egotism, paranoia, and deceptive tactics, pointed out that his critique of masks was based on an apparent misreading of a study (Berenson was given a platform to defend himself, where else, on MacCallum’s show).

But despite this, no one at Fox, including the Murdochs, seems remotely interested in keeping Berenson from using the network’s airwaves to pollute the public debate. While Berenson isn’t the only dangerous voice at Fox -- star hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham have waged a monthslong disinformation-laced culture war against mask usage -- he’s their easiest problem to fix, solvable with a simple memo banning shows from booking him. But night after night, on “straight news” and “opinion” shows alike, he’s there telling their audience that masks are useless.

It’s hard to get away from the idea that the Fox brass simply doesn’t care about how it is endangering its viewers. It is keeping its hands off the network’s right-wing programming, and counting the money as it rolls in. Meanwhile, the coronavirus death toll climbs.