Reprinted with permission from Media Matters
Politico recently admonished Dr. Anthony Fauci for his choice not to appear on Fox News, saying it deprived Fox viewers of “the Biden administration’s most public-facing figure in the effort to contain Covid-19.” But an appearance by one credible public health communicator wouldn’t be able to correct the imbalance of the network’s concerted effort to serially misinform its viewers about the pandemic.
Fox has repeatedly villainized Fauci, instead hosting a parade of dubious medical guests to justify the network’s skewed political narrative by spreading false or misleading statements to viewers. And because many in Fox’s guest lineup hold an advanced degree in public health or medicine, their willingness to lend credibility to the spread of misinformation is even more dangerous.
With the help of its rotating roster of supposed medical experts, Fox News turned vaccine passports and mandates into culture war battles because it’s “great for ratings.” According to a Media Matters study, Fox News undermined vaccines nearly every day over a six-month period. (Ironically, Fox’s own vaccine and testing policies are more stringent than those put forward by the Biden administration.)
Guests and hosts on Fox also spread many questionable “miracle cures” for COVID-19, including bear bile, vaping, and sunlight. Notably, Fox helped fan the flames of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin misinformation, leading to shortages of these medications which are crucial for treating other ailments.
These kinds of public health misinformation are deadly, especially when it comes from people who should know better. The frequent bad actors listed below each have a history of spreading misleading and false medical advice on Fox News, which gives these medical misinformers a huge platform to spread that bad advice to its viewers.
Here are the top 10 most frequent medical guests on Fox News in 2021:
1. Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel (193 appearances)
- CitationMolly Butler / Media Matters
- Siegel holds a medical degree and teaches clinical medicine at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, where he is also a practicing internist. Siegel has an extensive record of downplaying epidemics and pandemics like swine flu, SARS, avian influenza, and COVID-19. His 2005 book False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear blamed government, media, and pharmaceutical companies for “artificially” producing a panic from threats of disease. A Harvard study on misinformation found that Siegel contributed to false theories about COVID-19 early on the pandemic because he compared the virus to influenza. In 2020, Siegel declared the “worst case scenario” for COVID-19 was that “it could be the flu” and claimed that “it’s almost impossible you are going to die” from the disease if you’re “under 70.” In 2021, Siegel routinely contributed to persistent anti-science propaganda on Fox:
- In September on America Reports, Siegel fearmongered that migrants and asylum-seekers would be vectors for disease. Siegel said, “they are going to leak into the neighboring communities,” and that Haitians are “clearly spreading COVID.” (Blaming migrants for disease spread is a longtime racist myth.)
- On Fox & Friends in October, he worried that vaccine effectiveness is waning and blamed the public health policies for “causing great depression and anxiety” rather than the pandemic itself.
- In November on America's Newsroom, Siegel criticized public health policies, like COVID-19 vaccinations for children ages 5-11, that “are not factoring in natural immunity at all.” “Two million kids in that age group have already had COVID, and I want that factored in,” Siegel declared. “I want them to say maybe wait a while, or maybe you get one mRNA shot that cements immunity at the lower dose.”
- In November on Fox & Friends, Siegel declared “I don’t believe in mandates, period” because they are “counterproductive” and will “lead to a divisive political battle.”
2. Fox News contributor Dr. Martin “Marty” Makary (142 appearances)
- CitationFrom the November 8, 2021, edition of Fox News' Primetime
- Makary holds a masters degree in public health and specializes in abdominal laparoscopic surgery. He is a professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University. Makary has been described as “a darling of the anti-vaxxers” for contradicting current vaccine consensus among medical professionals. Makary has also written that there is “no compelling case” for vaccinating “healthy” children and claimed that he is “not aware of a single healthy child in the U.S. who has died of COVID-19 to date” – discounting all cases that involved disabled children with underlying health conditions. Despite Makary making numerous false predictions (saying, for example, that the United States would reach herd immunity by April) and being called out by other public experts for downplaying the risk of infectious disease, Fox regularly invited him back on-air in 2021 to undermine public health efforts:
- In March on The Story with Martha MacCallum, Makary predicted there was low risk of new variants causing COVID-19 surges, and on Your World with Neil Cavuto, he accused public health experts of “cry[ing] wolf” over the threat of new variants.
- In June on America Reports, Makary went so far as to complain that discussion of new variants is “fearmongering” to “manipulate people to get vaccinated,” saying, “I’m for vaccines, but this has turned into a tool to try to coax people into it.”
- In June on Special Report, Makary claimed it's time to “move on and live a normal life” comparing COVID-19 cases to influenza: “right now we’re about at 150th the daily cases of a regular seasonal flu in the middle of that flu season. So people have a distorted perception of risk.” According to Makary’s own employer, Johns Hopkins, COVID-19 has a mortality rate 10 times higher that of the flu.
- On Your World with Neil Cavuto in November, Makary undermined efforts to vaccinate children, saying kids with natural immunity should not be vaccinated. He went on to fearmonger about potential side effects of vaccinations.
- On Fox News Primetime in November, Makary claimed to be pro-vaccine but said he stands against “obsolete” vaccine mandates, especially for children. Makary falsely asserted that “public health officials have brushed under the rug the fact that kids have died from the vaccine, it's rare” citing myocarditis occurrences in young boys. (However the real risk of myocarditis is from COVID-19, not vaccines, and most people who develop myocarditis recover quickly.)
3. Fox News contributor Dr. Nicole Saphier (113 appearances)
- CitationFrom the November 29, 2021, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends
- Saphier holds a medical degree and practices radiology, a medical discipline that uses imaging like X-rays to diagnose and treat diseases. She has also long advocated against government intervention in public health. Saphier’s foundational views of medicine and health, outlined in her many books, blame individual people for “bad behaviors” and big government for causing health crises. She has also argued against vaccinating “young” or “healthy” people, including children, based on incredibly rare vaccine side effects. Saphier is still comparing COVID-19 to the seasonal flu and recently came out in support of allowing new variants to “circulate.” (This pro-infection strategy runs counter to the consensus of infectious disease experts). Saphier has routinely undermined public health measures and downplayed the pandemic on Fox in 2021:
- In July on America Reports, Saphier minimized children’s risk from COVID-19, stating: “We have ample data that shows us that children really are at a very, very low risk of a severe outcome from COVID-19” and insisted that children should not be masked in schools.
- In July on Hannity, Saphier discussed dangerous side effects of vaccines but omitted informing viewers of the low chances of these side effects.
- In July on America Reports, Saphier advocated against mask and vaccine mandates, claiming these policies cause hesitancy: “We have to stop with the fearmongering, and if you keep telling people to wear masks after they are vaccinated and while transmission is low, people are not going to go and get vaccinated.”
- In November on America’s Newsroom, Saphier declared vaccine mandates for children were unnecessary and that “parents should rest assured that their children are going to be safe either way, whether to vaccinate or not.”
4. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) (51 appearances)
- CitationFrom the November 29, 2021 edition of Fox News' Primetime
- In addition to his career as a politician, Paul holds a medical degree and specializes in ophthalmology, a branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of disorders in the eye. Paul has been accused by other physicians of spreading false and misleading medical information, and his YouTube account was temporarily suspended after some of his comments about masks infringed on the platform’s policy prohibiting medical misinformation. Paul was the first senator to test positive for COVID-19 in March 2020 and he has claimed that his natural immunity to COVID-19 is better than vaccinated immunity, which is counter to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Paul is also still promoting the antiparasitic drug ivermectin to treat COVID-19, despite insufficient evidence for its effectiveness.In his appearances on Fox to discuss the pandemic in 2021, Paul has habitually echoed right-wing media narratives and spread misinformation:
- On Your World with Neil Cavuto in April, Paul claimed that talking about COVID-19 variants is “fearmongering.”
- In July on The Ingraham Angle, Fox host Laura Ingraham interviewed Paul to dismiss fears of the delta variant, asking, “Is it really a disease if you don’t get any symptoms?” Paul went on to repeat misleading this talking point, asking, “What kind of disease is it that has no symptoms?”
- In August on Fox & Friends, Paul likened potential vaccine passports for air travel to terrorist no-fly lists calling the suggestion “authoritarian” because vaccinations are “personal medical decisions.”
- In November, Paul declared masks and mask mandates to be useless, and went on to assert that COVID-19 vaccines are “not working very well” on Fox & Friends.
5. Dr. Brett Giroir (45 appearances)
- CitationFrom the November 29, 2021, edition of Fox News' Special Report
- Giroir is a former four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps who holds a medical degree and specializes in pediatrics. Giroir also served as assistant secretary for health in the Trump administration and was on the White House coronavirus task force. Giroir defended the Trump administration response to the early pandemic, though he qualified that they “could have done better.” Giroir also defended the slow rollout of testing early in the pandemic, as he was testing czar.In his appearances on Fox to discuss the pandemic in 2021, Giroir has often spread misinformation:
- Also in May on America’s Newsroom, he claimed business’ vaccine passports “make no public health sense” and predicted influenza deaths will outpace COVID-19 deaths by the end of the year, musing that people may “have to show an influenza passport[.]… This is a very slippery slope.”
- In June on America’s Newsroom, Giroir said Fauci’s statements about the virus’ origins were “obvious[ly] to be antagonistic” to then-President Donald Trump, because Trump had amplified the lab leak theory. Giroir has also promoted the lab leak theory.
- In August on Your World with Neil Cavuto, Giroir stated he does not support state or school mask mandates and prioritized the economy over public health measures.
- In September on Your World with Neil Cavuto, Girior called vaccine mandates “the result of a failure of leadership,” continuing that “the federal government has decided to coerce” people into getting vaccinated, despite the fact that mandates have a long legal precedent.
- Girior has spoken in support of COVID-19 booster shots, but claimed in October on Fox News Primetime that natural immunity “should be taken as equivalent to a vaccine” while talking to notorious anti-vax Fox host Will Cain.
- In November 2021 on Special Report, Giroir attacked Fauci, claiming “He’s become much more political."
6. Fox News contributor Dr. Janette Nesheiwat (37 appearances)
- CitationFrom the November 29, 2021, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends
- Nesheiwat holds a medical degree and specializes in family and emergency medicine. In the early days of the pandemic, Nesheiwat repeatedly promoted supplemental zinc as a treatment for COVID-19 or to be taken to prevent the disease. The National Institute of Health found there is insufficient evidence “to recommend either for or against the use of zinc for the treatment of COVID-19.” In her appearances on Fox to discuss COVID-19 in 2021, Nesheiwat attempted to justify criticism of public health measures and made misleading statements:
- In June on The Story with Martha MacCallum, Nesheiwat cautioned “the young male population” against being vaccinated due to potentially rare myocarditis side effects.
- In July on Fox & Friends, Nesheiwat said that CDC guidance calling for vaccinated people to wear masks indoors under some circumstances is “confusing and frustrating” and complained about school mask mandates: “I don’t like the fact that we’re putting the burden on our children. We don’t have data and evidence that tells us there is an overall net benefit to putting a mask on a young child.”
- In July on Fox & Friends, she dismissed the serious risks for children contracting COVID-19 as “extremely low” and emphasized that vaccinations should be a “personal choice.”
- In September on America Reports, Nesheiwat has cautioned against booster shots for children due to possible side effects of myocarditis, but did not mention that myocarditis is also a negative outcome from COVID-19 infection itself.
7. Dr. Jayanta “Jay” Bhattacharya (33 appearances)
- CitationFrom the November 29, 2021, edition of Fox News' The Ingraham Angle
- Bhattacharya holds a medical degree and is a professor of health policy at Stanford University specializing in health economics. He is also associated with the Hoover Institution, a right-wing think tank at Stanford. Bhattacharya received widespread backlash in 2020 for supporting the controversial Great Barrington Declaration, which called for building up herd immunity through “natural infection” -- a strategy that would have risked millions of lives. Bhattacharya has also promoted ivermectin to treat COVID-19 despite FDA warnings. He also informally advised Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis about lockdowns and school reopenings. In April, YouTube removed a video of a roundtable discussion hosted by DeSantis for violating its policy prohibiting medical misinformation, due in part to Bhattacharya’s claim that it is “developmentally inappropriate” for children to wear masks. In his appearances on Fox to discuss the pandemic in 2021, Bhattacharya has habitually spread misinformation:
- In April on The Ingraham Angle, Bhattacharya called Fauci “the No. 1 anti-vaxxer in the country” for endorsing continued masking in addition to vaccines for COVID-19.
- In July on The Ingraham Angle, Bhattacharya undermined vaccine efficacy and promoted natural immunity instead, claiming the mandate “is bad for public health and it ignores the science” because it “discriminates against all of the working class people who’ve come down with COVID, recover from it, because we deem them essential, didn’t protect them while protecting the laptop class. Now we say, OK, that natural immunity doesn’t count for anything.”
- In August on The Ingraham Angle, he declared that “vaccine passports make absolutely no sense.”
- In August on The Ingraham Angle, after the FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine, Bhattacharya was asked by host Laura Ingraham, “Did they not push this FDA approval too fast, especially when you compare it to the normal approval process?” Bhattacharya responded: “They did. Normally it would take years to get a vaccine tested and approved through the FDA approval process.” He later added that “the FDA approval does not change the fact that we don't have long-term safety data with the vaccine.”
- In September on The Ingraham Angle, Bhattacharya claimed that vaccine mandates are “actually very, very harmful to public health,” but went on to admit “there may be vaccines where it makes some sense,” insisting, “in the context of COVID, this is going to create some enormous vaccine hesitancy.”
8. Dr. Harvey Risch (32 appearances)
- CitationFrom the November 24, 2021, edition of Fox News' The Ingraham Angle
- Risch is a professor of epidemiology at Yale University who holds a medical degree and specializes in cancer and chronic disease. Risch’s place of employment, the Yale School of Medicine, wrote a statement pushing back on his misleading claims about the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19, and 24 other Yale faculty spoke out against Risch’s serial misinformation: “He is not an expert in infectious disease epidemiology and he has not been swayed by the body of scientific evidence from rigorously conducted clinical trials, which refute the plausibility of his belief and arguments.” Risch has also undermined the COVID-19 vaccine and railed against vaccine mandates. In his appearances on Fox to discuss COVID-19 in 2021, Risch has often spread misinformation:
- In February on The Ingraham Angle, Risch speculated that COVID-19 vaccines were a conspiracy by Big Pharma, claiming that “to call them a lifesaving measure is totally beyond the pale of anything that is scientific and knowable. I think they’re selling vaccines basically.”
- In August on The Ingraham Angle, he declared vaccine passports are “a useless idea” because vaccinated people can still be infected and transmit COVID-19.
- In September on Fox News Primetime, Risch claimed “natural immunity” rather than vaccination is “the only way we will get out of this whole COVID pandemic” and claimed that “the vaccinated people create the variants.” Advocating for uncontrolled infection of a deadly virus is against every public health and epidemiology teaching, and The Lancet medical journal calls this approach “a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence.”
- In October on Life, Liberty & Levin, Risch undermined the effort to vaccinate children stating “your child’s life is on the line” and he would rather homeschool his child than comply with school vaccine mandates because vaccines are “a risk.”
- In October on The Ingraham Angle, Risch fearmongered about the COVID-19 vaccine’s adverse effects and misled viewers that vaccines caused “12,000 deaths,” citing the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System database. (The VAERS database’s self-reported entries are not confirmed to be linked to vaccination, and the CDC lists this disclaimer: “The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.”)
- In November on The Ingraham Angle, Risch claimed “there isn’t any justification” for children being vaccinated against COVID-19 and warned that “there will be way more deaths caused by the vaccines than the number of deaths in healthy kids that are occurring.”
9. Dr. Scott Atlas (30 appearances)
- CitationMolly Bulter / Media Matters
- Atlas holds a medical degree and specializes in neuroradiology, a specialty which focuses on diagnosing abnormalities of the brain, spine, head and neck. Like Bhattacharya, Atlas is affiliated with the Hoover Institution. After spreading medical misinformation on Fox News at the onset of the pandemic, Atlas was tapped to join the Trump administration as a senior adviser on the White House coronavirus task force, which exemplifies the feedback loop between Fox propaganda and federal policy. Other members of the task force have accused Atlas of downplaying the pandemic, while Stanford faculty voted to condemn Atlas’s misinformation. He has repeatedly pushed a controversial strategy of returning to life as normal with little to no mitigation policies. In his appearances on Fox to discuss COVID-19 during 2021, Atlas consistently spread misinformation:
- In May on The Ingraham Angle, Atlas undermined faith in elected public health experts: “The American people have been harmed tremendously by the policies and now what we are seeing is people don’t know who to turn to, because the trust in experts is essentially gone. And honestly rightfully so. It’s a disgrace.”
- In June on The Ingraham Angle, Atlas declared it’s “irrational” to “go for a zero-COVID world or a zero-risk world.”
- In September on The Ingraham Angle, he asserted masks were “worthless” and have “very minimal impact” in decreasing symptomatic cases according to the study discussed.
- In September on The Ingraham Angle, Atlas fearmongered about vaccinating children against COVID-19: “It’s almost surreal to think that we have devolved into a society where we’re injecting experimental drugs into young children.”
- In November on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Atlas attacked public health officials for focusing on “stopping an infection” using mitigation strategies rather than allowing infections to occur and also railed against vaccine mandates. This follows regular pro-infection praise from Atlas, which infectious disease experts have called “pseudoscience.”
10. Dr. Peter McCullough (23 appearances)
- CitationFrom the November 30, 2021, edition of Fox News' The Ingraham Angle
- McCullough holds a medical degree and specializes in cardiology. He also holds a masters degree in public health. McCullough has been discredited by most in the scientific and media communities for claims that the COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe and for his continual praise for debunked treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. He has shared that he may lose his medical certification from the American Board of Internal Medicine based on his continual misinformation. His former place of employment, Baylor Health, filed a lawsuit against him, citing “irreparable reputational and business harm” for claiming to be affiliated with the institution. In his appearances on Fox in 2021 to discuss COVID-19, McCullough has repeatedly spread misinformation that undermines the public vaccination effort:
- In July on The Ingraham Angle, McCullough stated “no one under age of 30” should be vaccinated against COVID-19.
- In July on The Ingraham Angle, McCullough said “we can’t vaccinate our way out of this” and promoted pseudo-cures like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.
- In October on The Ingraham Angle, McCullough promoted a conspiracy theory paper that claimed vaccines are more deadly than COVID-19 for children, which is counter to all known evidence.
- In October on The Ingraham Angle, he railed against vaccine mandates, stating that COVID-19 vaccines “are certainly not good enough to be mandated in any way, shape, or form” and fearmongering about potential vaccine side effects like myocarditis.
- In October on The Ingraham Angle, he stated that “natural immunity is really the backstop of us getting out of the pandemic” while undermining vaccinations as causing “excess harm.”