Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist and fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, joined the White House in August as one of President Donald Trump’s top coronavirus advisers. He was tapped largely due to the president’s affinity for what the doctor said during Fox News appearances, in which he espoused views that made him—as one White House official characterized—the “anti-Fauci” in Trump’s eyes.
Though Atlas is ascendant in Trumpworld, his views are considered scientifically unsound—if not dangerous, according to some critics—enough that he’s become increasingly unwelcome on various shows at the very network that helped get him his influential new job.
According to three people familiar with the situation, Fox News producers have been instructed in recent weeks to take extra care when inviting Atlas onto the network to discuss the pandemic, which is rapidly approaching a U.S. body count of 200,000. Some Fox staffers involved in the network’s more straightlaced daytime news programs have been increasingly reluctant to book him altogether.
Among the “hard-news” division shows at Fox, Atlas is viewed with skepticism by senior staff at many of the programs, as they view him as lacking credibility during the coronavirus crisis, and as someone who isn’t even a medical expert in the relevant field.
“Atlas has a background in radiology, not infectious diseases,” one of the sources said. “It makes no sense to have him on to discuss a contagious respiratory virus that continues to spread through parts of this country like wildfire.”
A Daily Beast analysis of all of his Fox News hits shows that as the summer progressed and as his stock quickly rose in Trump’s inner sanctum, Atlas’ appearances on Fox’s news programming took a dramatic plunge.
The network hasn’t entirely dispensed with Atlas, however.
Since being appointed to assist the president and his pandemic response, he has remained a semi-regular feature of the network’s vociferously pro-Trump opinion news programs like Tucker Carlson Tonight and the Ingraham Angle.
And at least one Fox News “hard news” program—that of 7 p.m. host Martha MacCallum—has continued to feature the current advisor. Over the past several months, he’s appeared on the program at least a dozen times, and is referred to as an expert on coronavirus despite his lack of specific credentials in infectious diseases.
Before joining the Trump team, Atlas appeared in July on other daytime and weekend news shows including Fox host Dana Perino’s midday program, the morning news show America’s Newsroom, and Shannon Bream’s Fox News @ Night.
But since joining the administration, he’s been largely absent from almost all of the so-called “hard news” shows—including Special Report, Newsroom, and Fox News @ Night—with the exception of MacCallum’s evening news broadcast, where he has continued to appear nearly as frequently as he does on opinion shows.
Since first appearing on the network to discuss the pandemic in April, Atlas has appeared numerous times to offer rebuttals to public-health experts’ warnings about the virus. He often downplayed the effectiveness of lockdowns, and has brushed off the “hysteria” about school reopenings, arguing that many children and teachers are at low risk to get and transmit the disease. But his primary focus has been championing the idea of herd immunity: In many of his Fox News appearances, Atlas touted the idea, which suggests governments should allow the virus spread widely among the population, allowing large groups of individuals to possibly develop future immunity to the virus.
Numerous infectious disease experts have expressed alarm at Atlas’ theories, sounding off about the dangers of collective immunity on platforms like The Washington Post, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal, and on social media.
Though there is some evidence that some level of collective immunity in areas hard-hit by the coronavirus may eventually slow the spread of the disease, many Americans and infectious disease experts believe the immense loss of life, demand on hospitals, and massive spread in communities is far too high a price to pay for experiments in herd immunity down the road. Sweden, which Atlas frequently touts as a model, has a higher mortality rate than in the U.S., and one of the highest mortality rates in Europe.
“Any proposed approach to achieve herd immunity through natural infection is not only highly unethical, but also unachievable,” a pair of virologists wrote in a paper published in respected medical publication The Lancet. “With a large majority of the population being infection naive, virus circulation can quickly return to early pandemic dimensions in a second wave once measures are lifted.”