Now that President Donald Trump has finally said that he’s “all for masks” amid a massive surge in COVID-19 cases, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy on Thursday wondered why wearing a mask to slow the spread of COVID-19 ever became politicized.
“For some reason, over the last couple of weeks, a month, masks have become political,” the Fox host remarked during an interview.
If he wants to identify that mysterious “some reason,” he needn’t look any further than his own colleagues.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., Fox News hosts and guests have repeatedly criticized face coverings—either by openly mocking them or by claiming mandated mask-wearing is an infringement on personal freedom, particularly by Democratic officials eager to control the population.
During an April 24 broadcast of Hannity, for instance, guest host Mike Huckabee and Fox News contributor Trey Gowdy—both former Republican elected officials—groused about a then-new Houston mandate that would fine residents up to $1,000 if they didn’t wear a mask in public, calling it an example of local government “trampling the constitutional rights of American citizens.”
“Is this a threat to the long-term life and liberty of the United States and its people?” Huckabee wondered aloud about state and local coronavirus restrictions, prompting Gowdy to make an over-the-top observation about such fines.
“So, if I'm going to imprison you or fine you for not wearing a mask, why can’t I hold you down and vaccinate you against the flu this fall?” Gowdy grumbled. “I mean, you don’t want the flu and COVID-19, so can I involuntarily vaccinate you?”
The former congressman went on to compare the possibility of a fine to states giving prisoners early releases due to the pandemic, claiming that you could “go to jail for not wearing a mask but if you kill four dozen women, because of COVID-19, we might let you out.”
Days later, primetime star Laura Ingraham—who was actually an early and vocal proponent of mask-wearing—insisted that donning face masks had become a way for Democrats and liberals to enforce incessant panic.
“Now Rush Limbaugh made a great point, as he always does, on the radio the other day and he said the virus itself as it weakens and states start reopening, the media that have been selling panic, panic, panic for weeks and weeks and weeks, they have fewer images to sell their hysteria to justify continued lockdowns,” she said on the April 29 broadcast of The Ingraham Angle. “But the masks, well they're kind of a constant reminder. You see the mask and you think, you are not safe. You are not back to normal. Not even close.”
Ingraham would continue to suggest mask-wearing was a left-wing power grab over the following weeks. On May 26, she insisted that masks should just be a “temporary thing” but that the goal of her political nemeses is to mandate masks “forever.” The following evening, meanwhile, she insisted a hatred for the “free market” was behind their desire to keep Americans “locked down and afraid.”
“They want you masked, not just during the virus, but until the end of time,” she declared. “Because remember, there will always be another potential virus lurking out there around the corner.”
Ingraham and her colleagues also politicized face coverings by ridiculing the appearance of those who wore them—namely presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden—and suggesting the face coverings signal the sort of supposed effeminate weakness right-wing media often associates with its political enemies. By contrast, the Fox stars said, a mask-free Trump exemplified manly strength.
“Biden emerged from his basement for the first time in two months to lay a wreath at a war memorial near his home in Delaware,” frequent Ingraham guest Raymond Arroyo said on May 26. “It was a grim look: He wore a black mask, the dark Ray-Bans. Even his gait was tentative. He projected an image of trepidation, even fear.”
After Arroyo framed a maskless Trump as representing “the American spirit of defiance in the face of adversity,” Ingraham chimed in, saying the public doesn’t want to wear masks long-term before claiming Democrats “need that visual to keep people scared.”
“But for Joe Biden, it's virtue-signaling,” Arroyo responded. “It’s a way to set himself off from Trump.”
Ingraham and Arroyo, of course, weren’t the only ones mocking Biden for publicly wearing a mask. Infamously, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume fired off a May 25 tweet showing an image of a masked Biden, with his own caption: “This might help explain why Trump doesn’t like to wear a mask in public.” The post was quickly shared by the president.
The following day, Hume said on-air that Biden “looked ridiculous,” claiming that is why much of the public doesn’t want to don a face covering.
Claiming that it was unnecessary for the ex-veep to wear a mask since he was outdoors and could maintain appropriate distance from others, the veteran Fox pundit politicized masks by defending the president’s refusal to be publicly seen with a mask.
“When he looks at that picture of Joe Biden, he thinks Biden looks ridiculous, and he kind of does, and he doesn't want to look that way,” Hume professed. “And the fact—the fact that he retweeted that tweet of mine, which I certainly didn't expect, suggests that he agrees with what I said. This is why he won't wear a mask. He doesn't want to look funny.”
Top-rated host Tucker Carlson, meanwhile, has largely politicized mask-wearing as part of his broader attacks on Democrats, the media, and public-health experts.
“The citizens who remain stuck in Los Angeles are effectively hostages of the mayor. [Mayor Eric] Garcetti is demanding that anyone who goes outside for any reason as the heat rises in L.A. must wear a mask,” Carlson huffed on May 15. “It goes without saying there is no science to back up this order or any of Garcetti’s so-called health decisions. In fact, it’s possible that requiring masks outside will not prevent a single person from being infected in Los Angeles. But Garcetti doesn’t care. Anyone who disobeys this order will be punished.”
Carlson told his viewers in late March that “of course, masks work,” adding that “everyone knows that” while dinging health officials for initially saying masks are unnecessary, noting that the public understood “there’s a shortage of masks” and don’t want to be lied to.
The primetime host once again took issue with Los Angeles’ mask ordinance on May 28, claiming that officials recommending hand-washing meant they “are telling you that your face mask is so dangerous that you must wash her hands thoroughly after touching.”
“It's like a bio-weapon,” he exclaimed. “But then you are required to put that same terrifyingly dangerous face mask over your nose and mouth and you are required to do this by law. Good luck, Los Angeles, you don’t deserve this.”
The far-right Fox star also gave voice to so-called “COVID Contrarian” Alex Berenson, a former New York Times reporter-turned-spy-novelist who has recently become a star on the right for his relentless mission to convince the public that a pandemic that’s caused 130,000 Amercan deaths isn’t actually dangerous.
“By the way, not a lot of evidence that masks would help,” Berenson told Carlson on June 23. “I know some people are saying it’s because those states don’t have masks. That’s true, how about in Canada where as far as I know mask wearing is not required and has not been a resurgence.”
If Doocy needs more examples to answer his question of when masks became politicized, he could view some of what the network’s slightly more buttoned-up “straight news” side had to say about facial coverings.
During the May 28 broadcast of Martha MacCallum’s show, the Fox News anchor teased a “hot debate about mask wearing in public,” inviting on a guest to explain how “mandatory masks are not about safety, they are about social control.”
“You are going after what you see as masks as an effort to control us and that it's going to become this slippery slope and pretty soon government will be telling us that our lives are changed forever and that we’re going to be wearing these, I guess indefinitely?” MacCallum said.
“The point of the masks is to teach people that life won't be going back to normal and we have to accept COVID-related regulations that normally we would really balk at because they infringe upon our constitutional rights or liberties,” said lawyer Molly McCann, who repeatedly appeared on the network to hype her article for right-wing site The Federalist criticizing mandatory facial coverings.
Despite the network’s long-documented history of mocking and dismissing and fear-mongering over masks, some Fox News hosts have become loud proponents of donning the facial coverings as a low-cost safety measure.
Two pro-Trump hosts, Sean Hannity and Doocy, have begun suggesting that mask-wearing would help states and localities reopen their economies faster and prevent future lockdowns. They both have also seemed to indirectly encourage Trump to publicly wear a mask to set an example from above.
And in the early days of the outbreak in New York, even Ingraham encouraged people to wear facial coverings so they could continue going to work, posting tweets showing followers how to make their own facial coverings. “Going back to most jobs after 15 days will require new protocols until this virus burns out—everyone within 6 feet of others MUST wear masks, constant hand washing, gloves, protective goggles if needed,” she wrote on March 23.
But even before her about-face on masks, the Fox News host still enthusiastically used the facial-coverings as a political football.
“The ‘experts’ are routinely wrong on issues big and small—on wearing masks, on reusable grocery bags… virus modeling and treatments. For years they defended outsourcing to China. So when experts issue edicts, remember their often spectacular record of failure,” Ingraham wrote in April.