Infectious disease official Dr. Anthony Fauci tore into Fox News host Jesse Watters on Tuesday morning for explicitly urging people to confront him with unproven right-wing accusations in public to create fodder for conservative media.
“I’m deputizing you guys to be little James O’Keefes,” the Fox host told the crowd at the youth conservative Turning Point USA conference on Monday, referring to the infamous Project Veritas founder who’s repeatedly slipped on banana peels in his efforts to “bust” his foes undercover.
Watters went on to coach the event attendees on how to corner Fauci with cameras if he visits their college campuses and “ambush” him with a rhetorical “kill shot.”
“Boom! He is dead! He is dead!” Watters declared.
Fauci fired back at the Fox host on CNN the next day.
“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,” he said. “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?”
Fauci added that it was “very unlikely” that Watters would be held accountable at Fox.
“I mean, that’s crazy,” he said. “The guy should be fired on the spot.”
Watters had used Fauci as an example of how conservatives ought to “go on the offensive” against liberals by making them feel “awkward.”
The rhetorical “kill shot,” per Watters, would come when the young Republicans demanded answers from Fauci about a misleading claim Watters made: that Fauci has funded “sloppy research” at a Chinese lab where some have speculated COVID-19 originated. The faulty theory about the pandemic’s origins remains stubbornly popular on the right.
Watters’ graphic blueprint on how to spring a trap on Fauci ended with the Fox host encouraging the TPUSA event crowd to send their footage to Fox News, the Daily Caller and other right-wing media outlets.
“That’s what we want! That changes the whole conversation of the country,” Watters told the cheering audience.
Fox defended Watters in an emailed statement to TPM on Tuesday, saying its host was not calling for violence, and that “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.”
Tuesday morning was not the first time Fauci has called out a Fox personality for using inflammatory rhetoric to attack him. It’s also not the first to him question why the Fox network itself allows its staff to get away with it: In early December, Fauci slammed Fox Nation host Lara Logan for comparing him to Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.
“What I find striking, Chris, is how she gets no discipline whatsoever from the Fox network, how they can let her say that with no comment and no disciplinary action,” Fauci told MSNBC host Chris Hayes at the time. “I’m astounded by that.”