Reprinted with permission from Media Matters
The feminist writer Naomi Wolf garnered fame during the 1990s for her book The Beauty Myth and her work as an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. But in recent years, she's been better known for promoting an array of unhinged conspiracy theories, most recently regarding the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This combination has made her a perfect guest for Fox News.
Fox is far more interested in turning coronavirus into a political cudgel than in giving users accurate health information. And so the network's hosts lean on Wolf's liberal credentials while giving her a platform to claim that the Democratic response to the pandemic is aimed at dissolving society and enacting a totalitarian state comparable to Nazi Germany.
Since mid-February, she appeared at least seven times on Fox to discuss her views on the pandemic: twice apiece on Tucker Carlson Tonight and The Revolution with Steve Hilton, and three times on Fox News Primetime, the most recent of which came Monday night. Wolf cited the notorious anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. during that interview to argue that Dr. Anthony Fauci, Bill and Melinda Gates, the state of Israel, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were engaged in some sort of nebulous but sinister vaccine conspiracy.
It is irresponsible for a news outlet to give Wolf that sort of credulous attention. Her social media channels are littered with absurd claims about the virus and its vaccines. Between her first and second Fox appearances alone, she tweeted that a new technology allowed the delivery of "vaccines w nanopatticles that let you travel back in time"; that the Moderna vaccine is a "software platform" that allows "uploads"; and that due to face masks, children now lack "the human reflex that they when you smile at them they smile back" and have "dark circles under [their] eyes from low oxygen."
On Sunday night, Wolf cited purported reports of women who "bleed oddly [from] being AROUND vaccinated women," pointing her followers to a Facebook group which at one point had been titled "All Vaccines are Fake."
Less than 24 hours later, she was back on Fox.
Wolf's coronavirus rantings are consistent with her recent remarks on a host of other topics. In a series of 2014 Facebook posts, she suggested that videos showing Islamic State group terrorists beheading Americans might have been fabricated by the U.S. government; that the government was trying to create an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. as part of a plot to bring about a totalitarian state; and that the results of the Scottish independence referendum had been faked. That spate provoked critical revisitings of her prior commentary during the Bush and Obama administrations from both the left (The Daily Beast's Michael Moynihan: "From ISIS to Ebola: What Has Made Naomi Wolf So Paranoid?") and the right (National Review's Charles C. Cooke: "The Fevered Delusions of Naomi Wolf").
Then in May 2019, Wolf suffered through an embarrassing radio interview during which the interviewer explained to her that a central premise of her latest book, Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love, was false. Wolf had claimed that dozens of men were executed for having sex with other men in Victorian Britain. But the interviewer pointed out that she had misinterpreted a legal term that means that the subject had been pardoned as if it meant that they had been put to death. Her U.S. publisher subsequently canceled the book's release.
Fox is aware that Wolf is not credible -- indeed, Tucker Carlson himself mocked her over the radio interview shortly after it aired. At the time, he suggested that her failure undermined all her past work.
"Wolf learned live on air that her book, which she supposedly wrote, was a total sham, built on bogus assumptions," Carlson sneered.
"This woman calls herself Dr. Naomi Wolf," Carlson later told Fox's Melissa Francis (Carlson mocks people he disagrees with who ask to be addressed as "doctor" when they have a Ph.D. rather than an M.D.).
"She's advised presidential candidates, Al Gore, most famously," he continued. "She was a Rhodes Scholar. You and I were raised to believe that she was really impressive, but she's really not."
But a few days after President Joe Biden was victorious in the 2020 election, Wolf tweeted, "If I'd known Biden was open to 'lockdowns' as he now states, which is something historically unprecedented in any pandemic, and a terrifying practice, one that won't ever end because elites love it, I would never have voted for him."
And mirabile dictu, Carlson's faith in her was immediately restored.
While discussing her comments on his November 10, 2020, show, Carlson described her as "a woman called Naomi Wolf -- a pretty famous Democrat actually; if you're older than 30, you remember her." He praised her "surprisingly blunt, insightful, and honest observation."
A few months later, Wolf had apparently redeemed herself enough in Carlson's eyes to garner a slot on his show. He opened his February 22 broadcast by running through the same credentials he had previously suggested did not prove she was impressive.
"You've heard the name Naomi Wolf before," Carlson said. "She has been a prominent person in this country and a prominent Democrat for more than 30 years. Wolf is one of the founders of third-wave feminism. She worked for Bill Clinton. She advised Al Gore, famously. Late last year she voted for Joe Biden. You've almost certainly seen her book. She's written a lot of them."
Carlson did acknowledge that he had previously criticized Wolf on the show. But he pretended that this had been a matter of ideological disagreement, rather than that he had suggested she lacked credibility due to a significant and sloppy analytical error. Indeed, he celebrated her faculties, saying that her tweet about Biden showed that "whatever her preconceptions, Naomi Wolf has been paying attention."
During the interview that followed, Carlson nodded along as Wolf told him and his audience that "under the guise of a real medical pandemic, we're really moving into a coup situation, a police state situation" in which "autocratic tyrants at the state and now the national level are creating a kind of merger of corporate power and government power, which is really characteristic of Italian fascism in the 20s" such that "we are turning into a version of a totalitarian state before everyone's eyes."
At the conclusion of the interview, Carlson thanked Wolf for the "eye-opening pleasure" and said he hoped she'd be back. And a few weeks later she was, returning for a March 17 interview in which she complained that Twitter had twice locked her account until she deleted her unhinged coronavirus tweets. She described this as "It's really a very kind of CCP [Chinese Communist Party] type of conditioning to kind of conform and watch our words."
That kicked off a string of appearances in which she discussed her dystopian coronavirus views on other Fox shows.
- She claimed that vaccine "passports" could lead to "literally the end of human liberty in the West" with governments rounding up "dissidents and opposition leaders" as in Nazi Germany on the March 28 edition of The Next Revolution.
- She argued that "totalitarian, Chinese Communist Party-style methodologies" are being "directed at young adults and at the academy, in every part of civic life right now" such that "we're really, you know, grooming the next generation to be subjects to a totalitarian regime, not America at all" on the April 1 edition of Fox News Primetime.
- She described vaccine "passports" on the April 4 edition of The Next Revolution as follows: "We'll just let private industry discriminate against Americans based on their biological characteristics, which was exactly what Nazi Germany did."
- And she said of coronavirus restrictions impacting religious services on the April 5 Fox News Primetime: "We have to face where we are if we're going to survive it. There is a war on humanity, there is a war on religion, there is a war on human assembly. Big Tech wants to drive everyone indoors and dissolve the bonds between people."
Notably, while Carlson stressed Wolf's work for Clinton and Gore in the 1990s to suggest she is a rank-and-file member of the Democratic Party, she has proven much more heterodox in recent years. She spoke, for instance, at a 2008 rally in support of archconservative then-Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), during which she claimed that she had not received letters from her daughter at sleepaway camp because the government was intercepting her mail.
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