The head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Dr Anthony Fauci, is calling for the firing of a Fox News host after the broadcaster encouraged a crowd of young conservatives to “ambush” him and urged them to go for a rhetorical “kill shot”.
The violent rhetoric was used by The Five co-host Jesse Watters during an address to the right-wing youth group Turning Point USA over the weekend. On day three of the group’s conference in Phoenix, Arizona, Mr Watters described how someone could go viral on social media with a public confrontation with Dr Fauci.
“You got to ambush a guy like Fauci. OK, this is how you do these ambushes like [Project Veritas founder James] O'Keefe. You got to be respectful because they'll turn the tables on you and you can't have it blow up in your face,” said Mr Watters.
At one point, he switched over to almost exclusively gun-related metaphors: “Now you go in for the kill shot. The kill shot....whew, with an ambush, deadly. Because he doesn’t see it coming,” said Mr Watters.
He then added, backing away from the language: “This is when you say, Dr Fauci, you funded risky research at a sloppy Chinese lab,” referring to funding of research at a Wuhan-based virology lab that has been the center of accusations for the “lab leak” theory of the origin of Covid-19.
Dr Fauci responded on CNN’s New Day, when asked about the quote by John Berman.
“I’m wondering, you know, how much that concerns you when you hear language like that about you and your well-being?” asked Mr Berman.
“That’s awful that he said that. And he’s going to go very likely unaccountable. I mean, whatever network he’s on is not going to do anything for him. I mean, that’s crazy. The guy should be fired on the spot,” said Dr Fauci.
"The guy should be fired on the spot," says Dr. Fauci about FOX News entertainer Jesse Waters.— Nora Neus (@noraneus) December 21, 2021
Yesterday, Waters told a crowd to "ambush" Dr. Fauci with a "kill shot" so he "doesn't see it coming." pic.twitter.com/GEnuz1BzIO
The NIAID director has been the subject of death threats and other harassment since becoming the target of conservative politicians’ vitriol over his support for the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Covid-19 guidelines including mask-wearing and vaccinations, and his public-facing job as a member of the White House Covid-19 task force spanning two administrations.
A 56-year-old man was arrested in February and charged with making threats against Dr Fauci and Dr Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health. According to affidavits, the man threatened to kill the two officials and harm their families as well.
Dr Fauci appeared to take the rhetoric from Mr Watters as a direct threat, adding in the interview: “The only thing that I had ever done throughout these two years is to encourage people to practice good public health practices, to get vaccinated, to be careful in public settings, to wear a mask. And for that, you have some guy out there saying that people should be giving me a kill shot, to ambush me? I mean, what kind of craziness is there in society these days?”
A Fox News spokesperson defended Mr Watters’ comments, which they said were taken out of context by CNN.
“Based on watching the full clip and reading the entire transcript, it’s more than clear that Jesse Watters was using a metaphor for asking hard-hitting questions to Dr Fauci about gain-of-function research and his words have been twisted completely out of context,” said the spokesperson.
The liberal group Media Matters for America, however, argued that Mr Watters used rhetoric that was “horrifically violent...in vilifying a public health official to an audience that takes this type of rhetoric seriously”.
“Jesse Watters should be fired immediately. If Fox News doesn’t fire him, then the network is making it crystal clear that Watters’ comment is really just a distillation of what Fox News is aiming for: violence and death,” said its president, Angelo Carusone.
The Turning Point USA conference was a draw for the right wing’s most prominent figures over the weekend including former Alaska Gov Sarah Palin, who used her speech to spread fear about the Covid-19 vaccine that doctors say is the most effective way to guard against Covid-19 infections and the worst symptoms of the disease.
“It will be over my dead body that I’ll have to get a shot. They better not touch my kids either,” the former Republican vice presidential nominee told a cheering crowd of young conservatives.
Another speaker was far-right Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene, a frequent spreader of both 2020 election-related and Covid-19 misinformation who came under scrutiny after she used a term with a racist history to refer to Asian attendees at the conference.
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