Fox News says new CDC recommendations on mask wearing are just a distraction

On May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky announced new recommendations regarding mask wearing during a press conference at the White House. Americans who are fully vaccinated may stop wearing masks outdoors and indoors in most instances. Walensky cited three studies for the agency’s decision which showed vaccines are overwhelmingly effective at preventing COVID-19. As of Wednesday, roughly 116 million American adults are fully vaccinated.

In response to the recommendations, several states began lifting mask guidelines, though Pfizer and numerous retail outlets are keeping their mask mandates in place for the time being.

The new recommendations reflect a breakthrough in a pandemic that has killed over 583,000 Americans. Despite the clear efficacy widespread mask-wearing has on reducing the spread of COVID-19, it has also been a lightning rod for Fox News and conservative media since the pandemic began last year. Fox hosts have routinely cast doubt on mask efficacy, mocked political leaders for wearing them, and told their audience to ignore public health guidance.

After the CDC released its new recommendations, Fox hosts began claiming that the move was nothing more than a distraction from other so-called crises.

Shortly after the press conference at the White House, Fox host Dana Perino suggested the announcement was just a distraction from other stories in the news, saying, “They’re either extremely lucky or extremely skilled.”

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Citation From the May 13, 2021, edition of Fox News' The Five

DANA PERINO (CO-HOST): I think when President Biden said Americans have missed each other's smiles, I think that is true. He's got a great smile, Kamala Harris has a great smile. Everybody loves a smile. So that is good. Judge Jeanine said something that I was thinking about too, which is a bit earlier this week, the CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, she testified in front of Congress. She was not wearing a mask. But yesterday, though, John Kerry was testifying, and he was wearing a mask. And so, that was like -- 

WATTERS: I prefer that, though. 

PERINO: I think all of this is, sort of, strange. Now, you might wonder why today. I'm not saying but I would admire the skill to hold a positive announcement when every other story and every other headline -- when you're at the White House -- every story is bad. You're looking for a good story that will break through directly to the American people and this would be it. 

JEANINE PIRRO (CO-HOST): Yeah, smart. 

PERINO: I admire it. 

WATTERS: So do you think maybe they held this. They held this for a day, like today, when they were getting killed with bad news and then dropped it?  

PERINO: I'm just saying they're either extremely lucky or extremely skilled, and I admire it either way. 

Later that night, Fox host Jeanine Pirro on Sean Hannity’s prime-time show claimed the announcement was just “theater.”

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Citation From the May 13, 2021, edition of Fox News' Hannity

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Judge, I would expect now that every restaurant should be able to open and every child should be able to go to school at this point, wouldn't you? 

JEANINE PIRRO (FOX NEWS HOST): Oh absolutely. But, you know, the question is, Sean, why today? We have known for six months that if you're vaccinated and you're two weeks after the last shot, that you were immune. And, in fact, Joe Biden came out a few weeks ago and said, you know, if you're vaccinated, you don't have to wear the mask in public. And yet, he put his mask on. And when a reporter said to him, you know, why are you wearing a mask? He said, well, it is a patriotic duty. The messages have been ridiculous. And today, I think it's very curious that after he had a town hall last night on MSNBC -- or as you call it, DNC - with [Anthony] Fauci and the surgeon general, that they didn't even address this issue. So the question is why, when we've all known all along that if you took the vaccine, you're OK, you don't need to wear a mask.

And the truth is, it's distraction week for team Biden. What we've got is we've got an economy that's about to face incredible inflation. You're open about what's going on in Israel and with Hamas, then we've also got a pipeline disaster where the president makes believe he doesn't even know if the ransom has been paid, and then we've got a border that's in a mess. So this is all theater. I mean, what did they did today is they said, let's have a happy dance today. Let's tell America they don't have to wear their mask, and everyone will be happy, and life is good in America, and we can smile again. It is so simplistic, it's ridiculous. He ought to be worried about the fact that his energy secretary has admitted that transporting the fuel through the pipeline is one of the best ways of doing it, and so did John Kerry. He said the same thing. So, you know, Rand Paul was right. This is all theater. Let's just, you know, move on from this. 

On May 14, Fox & Friends co-host Will Cain said the decision “does make you question whether or not science was the guide here.”

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Citation From the May 14, 2021, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends

WILL CAIN (HOST):While [the CDC's decision] is supported by the science, it does make you question whether or not science was the guide here. You point out political winds blowing in the Biden administration's face from the crisis in Israel, the crisis at the border, schools still being closed, to mixed CDC guidance from here on out, to inflation, to gas shortages. Everywhere you turn there was a crisis for the Biden administration. Do you think this decision was somehow meant to offset or to change the conversation away from all of those crises? 

BRETT GIROIR (FORMER TRUMP ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL): So, I can't even imagine or speculate if it's meant to offset against those crisis. I can tell you that these decisions are not pure science and we shouldn't look at it that way. It's not just about infection control. It's about opening up America. It's about liberties. It's about how we run our country. And there was no scientific knowledge -- manifestation that happened yesterday. In fact, when you look at the CDC website and they say what's the science behind it? It goes back to an April 2 website. So there was nothing new. I think somebody just had to have the political will and say this is the right thing to do, stop the inertia at the CDC, you've got to get America open again, get off of the masks and restore confidence in the vaccine. 

A short while later, America’s Newsroom co-anchor Bill Hemmer, while speaking with the White House senior COVID-19 adviser, suggested that the recommendations may be a distraction.

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Citation From the May 14, 2021, edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom

BILL HEMMER (CO-ANCHOR): It was only 36 hours ago the head of the CDC said no change and Dr. Fauci pretty much said the same thing as well. Seven days ago, they were telling 12-year-olds to wear a mask at summer camp in July. I mean, that really is a swap. Adm. Brett Giroir, he was, sort of, in your spot, you know, for the last administration -- part of Operation Warp Speed, said this about 90 minutes ago. 


Just respond to some of the allegations he's laying down there in that comment. 

ANDY SLAVITT (WHITE HOUSE SENIOR COVID ADVISER): Well, the CDC guidance is going to be what it is until it changes. There's no in between guidance. We didn't find out at the White House until 9 p.m. the night before that the CDC was going to make this change yesterday. You know, if they wanted to do this politically conveniently, wouldn't you have done this before the hearing so [CDC Director Rochelle Walensky] didn't have to take the tough questions rather than after? Look, she's not running a popularity contest and the CDC is always going to be criticized as either too fast or too slow, usually at the same time, by the way. They're getting it from both sides. Today, they got it from both side before they made this change. But their job isn't to be popular. They try to follow the science. Our job at the White House is just to let them follow the science and take what comes and try to explain it as best we can to the American public. 

I know it's a shock to people. Some will say it should've been done long ago. Others are telling us they're not quite sure how to adjust to it. But the bottom line is they found evidence which tells them that you don't need to wear a mask if you're vaccinated and if you aren't, you're still in danger, and you should wear a mask. 

Of course, just days before these new recommendations, some people on Fox were warning that such public health guidelines were all about amassing permanent power.