Over the past month, Fox News host Greg Gutfeld has taken it upon himself to defend President Donald Trump’s infamous 2017 remark that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
Reports that Trump said what he said on camera are merely a “hoax” that has been “debunked,” Gutfeld has claimed. The long-time Fox News star hasn’t always seen it this way. In fact, he was among the loudest voices condemning Trump’s “both sides” moral equivocation after it happened.
Such a dramatic shift in opinion is perhaps illustrative of Gutfeld’s years-long transition from an irreverent, comedy-adjacent Fox host to yet another one of the network’s many on-air bootlickers in the Trump era.
“I, like many people, never saw the whole tape or read the entire transcript when I made the initial incorrect comment. This is the way of the media: you must comment on a circulating clip—without context, or you’re not doing your job. But once you watch the whole context and read the transcript, you realize the whole thing was selectively edited to appear a way that created the opposite meaning of the truth,” Gutfeld said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “So, unlike many people in the media, I am always happy to change my position when I am wrong. I love doing that. I do realize that leftwing blogs, however, need to cling to this hoax, because it's the centerpiece of their divisive, racial narratives. Now that it's debunked, they are going after the people who simply tweet the transcript, and say, ‘see for yourself.’”
Earlier this month, such right-wing revisionism about the president‘s 2017 remarks flared up when Joe Biden mentioned the “very fine people” incident—during his announcement of Kamala Harris as his running mate—as an impetus for his Democratic presidential bid. Conservatives once again began claiming the president’s equivocation about white nationalists was taken out of context.
“You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides,” Trump said on Aug. 15, 2017, three days after the Unite the Right rally of alt-right and white-supremacist groups ended with the murder of a counter-protester.
The president went on to claim he was not, in fact, defending any of the white supremacists involved. “And you had people—and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned too—but you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists,” he declared. “There were people in that rally—and I looked the night before—if you look, there were people protesting, very quietly, the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones,” he concluded.
Trump’s claims about quiet, non-racist demonstrators don’t line up with the stubborn facts from reporters on the ground. Though the president insisted he saw people “very quietly” protesting the Confederate statue’s removal the evening prior to the deadly violence, that extensively covered evening protest featured tiki torch-waving white nationalists chanting “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil” while getting into fistfights with counter-protesters. The rally was, at its core, driven by racist, anti-Semitic, and white nationalist sentiment—and it was specifically organized by far-right groups and alt-right personalities.
The day after Trump publicly ran cover for the white nationalist protest, Gutfeld—who, at the time, was among the few vocal Trump skeptics at Fox—was adamant in his distaste for the president’s comments.
“Now I try to give [Trump] the benefit and I try to analyze and understand the mistakes he makes,” Gutfeld said on the Aug. 16, 2017 broadcast of The Five. “And based on my experience, the only obvious answer I have for what he did is pure ignorance.”
Personally noting that, as a “right-wing libertarian,” he was initially focused on antifa and other counter-demonstrators at the Charlottesville rally, Gutfeld admitted he too was “ignorant” of all the white-nationalist and alt-right groups present.
“So he saw four groups there—he saw counter-protesters spoiling for a fight, counter-protesters not spoiling for a fight, racist marchers spoiling for a fight, other marchers not spoiling for a fight,” the Fox host said.
“That’s how he saw it. He was likely wrong. He was wrong. It came from an ignorance about what was going on.”
His co-host Dana Perino pointed out that Trump was given a statement outright condemning racism—similar to one he delivered the previous weekend—but he seemingly decided to ignore it. This, Perino said, suggests the “ignorance” argument may not hold water.
“I could see, stupidly, thinking there were these people who showed up who were interested in history—if you didn’t see the flyers! Like, I never saw the flyers until today,” Gutfeld replied. “They are horrible!”
Other Fox News hosts condemned the president’s remarks at the time, including Gutfeld’s Trump-boosting Five colleague Jesse Watters, who said: “You kind of don’t really want to delineate who the good people and the bad people—it’s still kind of a neo-Nazi rally.”
Their colleague Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery also snarked at the president that weekend on Gutfeld’s show, saying: “It’s really hard to find ‘fine people’ arm-in-arm with neo-Nazis.”
Skip ahead three years, however, and Gutfeld has now adopted the far-right argument—often put forth by Breitbart and Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist—that it was a “hoax” to suggest the president excused white nationalists with his remarks.
After Biden mentioned the “very fine people” two weeks ago as an impetus for his campaign, Gutfeld blew up at the ex-veep during a panel segment on The Five.
“You saw Joe Biden trot out the ‘fine people’ hoax, which has already been discredited,” Gutfeld exclaimed on Aug. 12. “Trump wasn't talking about racists, he was talking about both sides of the statue debate. Anybody with half a brain—i.e. Joe—knows that.”
Days later, on the Saturday evening broadcast of his eponymously named The Greg Gutfeld Show, the Fox star ranted about how Biden pushes a “race war” by repeatedly referencing the very Charlottesville comments Gutfeld had himself condemned in the past.
“What harmful bullshit,” Gutfeld huffed after playing video of Biden denouncing the “very fine people” comments.
He wasn’t done there, of course.
Following the end of the Democratic National Convention, the Fox star once again accused the ex-veep of sparking racial tensions by peddling a supposedly “debunked” conspiracy.
“This country could erupt again at any time and this feeble jackass happily flicks a match on a mountain of dry tinder with his ‘fine people’ hoax, and let me remind you the ‘fine people’ hoax has been debunked by everybody including even yes, CNN,” he fumed. “There are transcripts and there are videos that showed that Trump, when he said ‘both sides,’ he was talking about the debates regarding the monument, not Nazis or antifa. It’s obvious.”