Reprinted with permission from Media Matters
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?”