A fairly standard late-night Fox News cable segment featuring self-described “COVID Contrarian” Alex Berenson and infamous anti-vaxxer Robert Malone skidded off the tracks after the former accused the latter of overplaying his hand.
And Malone—whose recent appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast led to widespread outrage from the medical community—is extremely perturbed by the “totally unprovoked” attack, he told The Daily Beast on Saturday afternoon.
The tense on-air exchange spilled over with claims made by Malone that Berenson, who has become a regular on Tucker Carlson’s primetime show amid the pandemic, serves as “controlled opposition.”
“Listen, I don’t think Dr. Malone does himself or those of us who are trying to raise questions about the vaccines any favors, when he refers to himself as the inventor of the mRNA technology,” argued Berenson. “That is clearly a large exaggeration. And I don’t think he does us any favors, when he says that ivermectin has been proven to work. I think that is a huge overstatement of the case.”
“This is not ‘get the guest’ hour,” Fox News host Raymond Arroyo interjected.
Malone, a virologist and immunologist by profession who has been criticized for spreading vaccine misinformation, did indeed help develop early iterations of the mRNA platform in the late 1980s and early 90s, but was not involved in the development of the COVID-19 vaccines being used today. During the initial stages of the pandemic, Malone studied the use of Pepcid, the over-the-counter heartburn reliever, as a possible treatment for COVID, with the Trump administration’s blessing. (It didn’t work.)
Responding to Berenson, Malone appeared shocked by the criticism.
“That’s a low blow,” Malone fired back, while claiming he was in fact the inventor of mRNA technology. He went on to argue in favor of using the unproven anti-parasitic drug ivermectin to fight COVID. “Both of your statements are going to fail with the test of time, but that’s not this discussion.”
In a subsequent Substack post, Malone let Berenson have it.
“Alex Berenson goes on Fox News and directly calls me a liar to my face and says I didn’t invent RNA vaccines,” he wrote. “Unprofessional, rude and an a**hole to boot. But beyond that, I think we can all assume CONTROLLED OPPOSITION.”
That very label didn't sit well with Berenson, who told The Daily Beast, “Controlled opposition is a phrase that reveals much more about the speaker than the intended target.”
“My only allegiance is to the truth, my only customers are my readers,” he continued, “and the only people who control me are my kids.”
Reached by The Daily Beast by phone while in the Andalusian Mountains of Spain, where he said he was shooting a documentary with a Dutch film crew, Malone didn't hold back on Berenson.
The Fox News segment was “totally unprovoked,” said Malone, whose wife, Jill, could be heard in the background yelling out suggestions for details she thought important for Malone to share.
“I was shocked,” said Malone, who was recently called a “menace to public health” by a group of 270 doctors. “And so was the host [Raymond Arroyo] of Fox. Fox apologized to me for it. It was out of the blue. I have no idea what brought it on. I’ve never had any interaction with the guy, I don’t know him, I’ve never met him, I have had no correspondence with him. What would provoke him to do that, I can only speculate. And I don’t want to speculate.”
Fox News didn’t return The Daily Beast’s Saturday afternoon request for comment.
Calling Berenson’s appearance “a total bushwhack job,” Malone told The Daily Beast that noted anti-vaxxer and conspiracy theorist Naomi Wolf called him after the segment and said he “shouldn’t be bothered because [Berenson] called her crazy once in a public forum.”
“We’ve been subjected to censorship all the way through this,” said Malone. “But this friendly fire from Alex—this was fragging, to use a military term. And I have no idea why.”
Being “defrocked” of his Twitter and LinkedIn accounts is still very much a point of contention for Malone, who said he was invited to appear on the Fox News segment “because of that history of being deplatformed, a history that we both share,” referring to Berenson’s permanent suspension from the platform for repeatedly sharing vaccine misinformation with his 100K followers.
“That was the purpose of the hit, it was supposed to be focused on the media blitz about the 280 people that have signed this petition to have Spotify take off the Rogan show,” said Malone. “It was supposed to be about censorship, and for Berenson to come on and just directly attack me is bizarre.”
Malone sees himself as “deeply a scientist and a physician,” he maintained, insisting, “I don't put stuff out that isn’t well-grounded in fact.”
However, most objective observers would wholeheartedly disagree.
“He’s a legitimate scientist, or at least was until he started to make these false claims,” Dr. Paul Offit, chair of vaccinology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, told PolitiFact.
Malone earned a medical degree from Northwestern University in 1991, and is licensed in Maryland as an immunologist, according to the fact-checking site.
In August of 2021, The Atlantic said Malone’s “star” was within the “alternate media universe” that includes the likes of Steve Bannon.
“He started popping up on podcasts and cable news shows a few months ago, presented as a scientific expert, arguing that the approval process for the vaccines had been unwisely rushed,” according to the piece. “He told Tucker Carlson that the public doesn’t have enough information to decide whether to get vaccinated. He told Glenn Beck that offering incentives for taking vaccines is unethical. He told Del Bigtree, an anti-vaccine activist who opposes common childhood inoculations, that there hadn’t been sufficient research on how the vaccines might affect women’s reproductive systems. On show after show, Malone, who has quickly amassed more than 200,000 Twitter followers, casts doubt on the safety of the vaccines while decrying what he sees as attempts to censor dissent.”
On Saturday, Malone told The Daily Beast that his media coverage has been unmerciful, criticizing the reports as “yellow journalism and character assassination,” and “these fact-checkers who are opinion-enforcers.”
“Anything you say gets weaponized,” he went on. “So it's left me a little bit jaded about modern journalism. I hate to always focus on me, I'd much rather that people focus on the ideas rather than these character assassination hits.”
When asked about the lack of widespread adverse events occurring in vaccinated people, Malone pointed to his Substack, saying he penned a missive “about my own adverse events,” quickly pivoting to a supposed “issue about bad vaccine batches [that] is about to be brought to fore.”
On Jan. 23, Malone is set to appear at an anti-vaccine protest in Washington, D.C. Other speakers will include a slew of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Del Bigtree, and erstwhile Fox News personality Lara Logan.