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If you’re like me, you may have used the long Thanksgiving weekend to take a little break from the grind of the news cycle. But don’t fret. This installment of Public Notice will bring you up to speed with some of what you missed.
The biggest story of the weekend was the emergence of the omicron variant of the coronavirus — news that fueled fears the world might be on the cusp of another wave of Covid cases and death. Scientists warn there’s much we still don’t know about the new variant and how the vaccines will hold up against it, but this summer’s delta wave taught us the importance of taking new variants seriously. President Biden has already announced a legitimately controversial travel ban from eight countries in southern Africa in an effort to slow the spread of omicron, and he’s expected to deliver a speech about the topic on Monday.
Unsurprisingly, news of the new variant meant that Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public health officials were in high demand for the Sunday news shows.
But perhaps the most notable thing Fauci said during his Sunday show tour came during a prerecorded interview he did with Margaret Brennan, host of CBS’s Face the Nation.
Fauci doesn’t mince words about Ted Cruz in particular and Republicans in general
With the notable exception of the series of viral confrontations he’s had with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Fauci has been pretty careful to avoid directly criticizing Republicans who have spread conspiracy theories about him and called for his prosecution. That changed on Sunday’s edition of Face the Nation.
After Brennan brought up threats to his personal safety and the safety of his family stemming from Republicans trying to scapegoat him for Covid public health measures — “Senator Cruz told the attorney general you should be prosecuted,” Brennan noted — Fauci unloaded.
“Yeah. I have to laugh at that. I should be prosecuted? What happened on January 6, senator?” he said.
Brennan then pointed out that it’s not just Cruz.
“Well, there are a lot of Republican senators taking aim at this,” she said.
Fauci fired back by calling them liars.
“That's OK, I'm just going to do my job and I'm going to be saving lives and they're going to be lying,” he said.
Fauci went on to situate the Republican attack on him within the broader context of the GOP’s war on science, saying:
If they get up and criticize science, nobody's going to know what they're talking about. But if they get up and really aim their bullets at Tony Fauci, well, people could recognize there's a person there. There's a face, there's a voice you can recognize, you see him on television. So it's easy to criticize, but they're really criticizing science because I represent science. That's dangerous. To me, that's more dangerous than the slings and the arrows that get thrown at me. I'm not going to be around here forever, but science is going to be here forever. And if you damage science, you are doing something very detrimental to society long after I leave. And that's what I worry about.
He’s not wrong. But if you needed more evidence that most everything Republican members of Congress and their media echo chamber say about the pandemic should be taken with a Trump-sized grain of salt, there was a remarkable amount of it over the weekend on Fox News.
Fox News’s omicron meltdown
While you might not regard the emergence of a new coronavirus variant as a particularly political story, Fox News wasted no time poisoning its viewers’ minds with far-fetched conspiracy theories — to own the libs, of course.
On Saturday’s edition of Fox & Friends, host Pete Hegseth suggested that a Democratic cabal involving the Biden White House was involved in concocting the omicron variant for political gain (never mind the role the delta wave has played in hurting Biden’s poll numbers).
“Count on a variant about every October, every two years,” Hegseth said as his co-hosts agreed with him.
“We’re gonna need a new variant here,” he added, mimicking a phone call.
The irony, of course, is that while Fox News hosts like Hegseth continue to try and score cheap political points on Covid, they have done as much as anyone to extend the pandemic by relentlessly denigrating Covid vaccines, vaccine mandates, and just about any public policy measures meant to protect people. But Trump supporters like Hegseth have turned shamelessness into a superpower.
Fox News’s coverage of omicron somehow got worse from there, with the discussion on Jeanine Pirro’s Saturday evening show taking the cake for the most bonkers Covid rant of the weekend, thanks to former CBS war correspondent-turned-Fox Nation personality Lara Logan. Logan immediately revealed she has absolutely no business being invited on cable news to talk about coronavirus, and Pirro didn’t exactly cover herself in glory either.
Logan made a bizarre case that the public should stop caring about new variants, because “if they keep testing for different strains of coronavirus, we’re gonna be locked down for the rest of our existence.”
“Every oncologist who deals with bone cancer, identifies hundreds of coronaviruses inside of our bones,” Logan added. “They’ve created a problem that can never actually be solved so they can justify whatever it is they want to do.”
While it’s hard to know where to begin with Logan’s comments, suffice it to say that coronavirus is transmitted from person-to-person in a number of ways, including inhalation of airborne aerosol particles, but none of them involve the bones. Neither Pirro nor Dr. Marc Siegel pushed back on anything Logan said, however. In fact, Siegel responded by saying he’s in “complete agreement” with Logan’s anti-lockdown rant.
Pirro, for her part, expressed confusion about why the omicron variant has the name it does, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the variants are named after Greek letters and not the countries where they’re first detected.
It was a hot mess. But it wasn’t just Fox News personalities who spent the holiday weekend spreading Covid misinformation.
On Twitter, Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX), who was the physician to the president in the Obama and Trump administrations, echoed Hegseth by theorizing that omicron is the fruit of a Democratic plot to expand mail voting.
If that’s the case, then nations ranging from South Africa to Israel to the Netherlands are in on the plot to rig American elections for Democrats. Apparently it hasn’t occurred to Jackson that other countries exist.
Meanwhile, on both Fox News’s Sunday Morning Futures and NBC’s Meet the Press, elected Republicans (Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina and Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi, respectively) were given a platform to say that natural immunity obtained via getting infected with Covid is just as good if not preferable to getting vaccinated, ignoring new research indicating that there’s no substitute for vaccination, not to mention the human toll caused by the pandemic, which has now killed about 775,000 Americans.
Mace, for what it’s worth, went on CNN hours later and tried to portray herself as a big proponent of vaccines.
While it’s always notable given Fox News’s huge viewership, Covid misinformation and conspiracy theories receiving an uncritical platform on that network isn’t really news at this point. But Pirro wasn’t the only news anchor who received attention over the holiday for the wrong reasons.