Fox News has been planning its election night coverage for weeks, preparing staff and on-air talent for the biggest news night of the year. But now Fox faces uncertainty after the president of the network and many of his main on-air stars may have been exposed to COVID-19.
“Everyone is freaking out about election night,” said a current Fox News staff member.
On Sunday, The New York Times reported that Fox News top executives and talent will be quarantined and tested after flying on a network chartered flight from Nashville to New York – after Thursday night’s presidential debate – with a staff member who then went on to tested positive for the coronavirus. Passengers included network chairman Jay Wallace and on-air political hosts and analysts like Bret Baier, Martha MacCallum, Dana Perino and Juan Williams. (A Fox News spokesperson has not confirmed Time story or exhibit, citing employee privacy.)
These four stars were slated to play key studio roles for Fox’s election night coverage. But now it’s unclear how the network plans to proceed with its top talent potentially unable to come together in the same room.
“I believe this will plunge election night plans into chaos,” another Fox staff member told The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “It will be like starting from scratch … It’s not good for anyone.” The employee added, “It doesn’t make sense that there is a possibility that presenters will have to host the biggest party of 2020 from their homes.”
In an internal memo on Monday obtained by The Daily Beast, Wallace and CEO Suzanne Scott acknowledged that some staff had tested positive for COVID-19 and said the network would reduce staff in buildings and implement ” improved test procedures ”. Executives said the network would further reduce its in-person coverage on election night and that “only employees who are essential to that night’s production will be allowed to work. [Fox’s Midtown Manhattan headquarters]. “
The plane debacle is not the only reminder of the danger of a pandemic for network employees in recent days. Last week, an internal memo was sent to Fox News staff members saying web video producer Rob Brown, who had been with the network since 1999, had passed away. Although the memo does not specify the cause of death, several sources, including a family member, confirmed to the Daily Beast that Brown – who had not been in the office since March – died of complications from the coronavirus .
“Rob was a great employee and a bright light to those of us who were fortunate enough to work alongside him,” a Fox News spokesperson said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
News of the exposure to last week’s Nightly Debate alarmed Fox News staff, many of whom felt relatively secure due to the network’s fairly robust testing protocols and in-person staffing from the Washington offices and from New York.
Still, some employees weren’t surprised by the display of leadership and talent, noting how Fox executives sent large groups of employees to the debates, even when the network had no lead role. in events.
“Last week in Nashville, [NBC reporter Kristen] Welker was the moderator. But NBC had almost no footprint. ABC had almost no footprint, ”a source familiar with the situation told The Daily Beast. “But [Fox News] had a huge, huge footprint? Why so? ”(In addition to Wallace, MacCallum, Baier, Williams, and Perino, the network flew separately into pundits Karl Rove, Katie Pavlich, and Donna Brazile.)
Williams and Perino, co-hosts of the midday talk show The five, both showed up to offices on Friday after the flight in which they were potentially exposed to the virus, raising alarm bells among staff members after the Time report, by network insiders. And several of the show’s shameless pro-Trump hosts Greg Gutfeld and Jesse Watters have meanwhile taken an ambivalent stance toward large-scale anti-coronavirus measures like a national mask mandate, which experts say could save tens of thousands of lives.
“They think mask wearers are punks,” the source said of Watters and Gutfeld, noting that the couple have repeatedly repeated Trump’s dismissive suggestions that we are “turning the corner” on the pandemic which has now killed more than 225,000 people in the United States. States, with no end in sight. A recent Instagram post from The fiveThe official Watters account shows Watters standing in the green room without a mask.
In light of the sometimes cavalier attitude of their colleagues towards the coronavirus – both on and off the air – some Fox staff have started to reexamine office behavior and have expressed concern that some colleagues do not take the crisis seriously enough.
“In the elevators, everyone loves masks,” a source said. “But in the offices, no.
Since the start of the pandemic, the network has operated with a small team from its hubs in New York and Washington, DC, and has taken some precautions to ensure staff are tested. Some of the network’s talents take regular weekly saliva tests facilitated by the network, and the cohort that goes to major events, including debates and conventions, receives rapid tests. Fox News has also installed plexiglass in the control rooms between the headquarters and the building is regularly disinfected.
Still, some employees are reluctant to return to studio programming amid the pandemic, including Williams himself. The five has returned to the studio in recent weeks and introduced the hosts seated in socially distant high chairs. Before the pandemic, the set featured the five guests gathered around a small table.
Although on-air talent goes through rigorous network testing protocols, they seem to send a message to viewers that social distancing isn’t that important. Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, for example, sat almost side by side throughout the coverage of the presidential debate on Thursday night. Baier, meanwhile, noted on Monday that he had since tested negative.
Coverage of Thursday’s debate wasn’t the only time a lack of social distancing was noticed on air. After the first presidential debate last month in Cleveland, Ohio, pro-Trump Fox News host Sean Hannity interviewed presidential son Donald Trump, Jr. – who declined to follow mask-wearing requirements during the debate – in the debate room while the two were seated right next to each other. (They even joked about being so close to each other without masks.) Fox News commentator Donna Brazile, who also traveled to Nashville, was in Salt Lake City for the vice presidential debate and was within easy reach of presenter Bill Hemmer on set.
Besides the network that sends large teams to cover these political events, the stars of Fox News have also put themselves individually in danger.
For example, Laura Ingraham and Pete Hegseth – both Trump stalwarts and informal presidential advisers – were in attendance at the Rose Garden ceremony last month to announce Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court which turned into an event. super-spreader. It even culminated in one particularly awkward moment on air, in which Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner mistakenly believed Hegesth had confessed to testing positive for the coronavirus.
: With reports of Lachlan cartwright.
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