Politico reported Wednesday night that Dr. Anthony Fauci has turned down invitations to appear on Fox News since July, with the article complaining that the move has left the Biden administration “with few go-to communicators for conservative audiences who remain hesitant about the vaccine.”
Politico’s soft criticism of Fauci — and its treatment of Fox News as any kind of legitimate news outlet that would deserve an appearance by serious public health officials — reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of Fox’s propaganda operation. In reality, Fox has spread lies about the pandemic, vaccines, and public health officials at an industrial scale. So there's no indication that an appearance on the network would actually persuade its viewers, especially given that its biggest names have cast Fauci as a shadowy and ill-intentioned figure for more than a year. (My colleague Matt Gertz wrote of Fox primetime hosts trying to get Trump to fire Fauci in May of 2020.)
While Politico acknowledged that the NIAID director “likely has limited effectiveness with Fox News’ audience,” it nevertheless lamented that “the Biden administration’s most public-facing figure in the effort to contain Covid-19 is not a presence on the country’s most watched cable news network, with an audience that includes many of the people the Biden team is still trying to get vaccinated.”
Such an approach puts the burden of getting Fox viewers vaccinated on the Biden administration, instead of pointing out the network’s obvious pattern of sabotage aimed at blaming the White House for insufficiently high vaccination rates. This also presupposes that Fox viewers even want to be reached. When Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto urged the network’s viewers to get vaccinated following his own recent breakthrough infection as an immunocompromised person, he got bombarded with hate mail. If Fox viewers are that unreceptive to a personal appeal from one of the network's hosts, it seems unlikely that they would be responsive to public health figures whom the network has demonized throughout the pandemic.
Politico also points out that Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institute of Health, “has helped fill the void with several appearances on Fox News shows.” Collins’ appearances, however, further illustrate the problems that come from serious public health experts trying to reach out to Fox audiences or communicate with the network’s hosts.
During an interview Tuesday on America’s Newsroom, Collins explained some key points about the omicron variant and the ongoing process of understanding it. But his promotion of vaccination was still blunted by his abstract bemoaning of the influence of “politics” in the debate, instead of directly calling out the network for its politicization of the pandemic.
Immediately following the end of Collins’ appearance, co-anchor Bill Hemmer read from a Wall Street Journal editorial denouncing vaccine mandates for hospital workers and attacking prominent Democratic officials — thus undermining everything that Collins had just tried to communicate.
In one of Fauci’s rare appearances on the network in October, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace questioned him about his purported status as a “polarizing” figure, asking: “Why do you think you’ve become so controversial? And honestly, do you think there's anything you have done that has contributed to that?”
Not only did Wallace never mention his network’s major role in demonizing Fauci and other medical experts, but soon after the appearance the Fox website ran a banner image about the segment, with the headline “Fauci’s explanation for why so many people hate him is likely to spark even more backlash.” The article also linked to another piece promoting a book by Sharri Markson, a reporter for Murdoch outlets in Australia, spreading the false theory that Fauci was linked to the creation of COVID-19.
When the network did get an appearance by Fauci, it only exploited the opportunity to spread more conspiracy theories and misinformation. It’s clear that in Fox’s rigged system, showing up at all does more harm than good.
Fox has become even more belligerent in just the last few days. Fox News primetime host Tucker Carlson has compared Fauci to Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, while Fox Nation host Lara Logan compared him to Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. The latter remarks were condemned by Holocaust survivors as well as multiple prominent Jewish groups and the Auschwitz Museum. CNN reported that Logan has since tweeted attacks at both the Auschwitz Museum for having condemned her remarks, and at Fauci for his past research on AIDS drugs and instead promoting even more false claims that AIDS is not linked to HIV at all.
Given Fox’s characterization of Fauci, it’s unclear how he could be a “communicator” for the network’s audience.
Logan’s outlandish remarks are emblematic of Fox’s coverage of COVID-19, in which the network has trotted out its own roster of dubious medical experts and anti-vaccine activists, spreading such false claims as alleging that the vaccines are deadlier than COVID-19 itself.
The network itself does not believe any of this rhetoric at a corporate level, as it maintains a strict regimen of vaccination and testing for its employees. The network’s motivation, then, has to do with money — according to Fox insiders, the COVID-19 lies have been “great for ratings.”