“Now you go in for the kill shot,” Watters said, suggesting how activists could confront Fauci in public and film the encounter. “The kill shot? With an ambush? Deadly. Because he doesn’t see it coming. This is when you say: Dr. Fauci, you funded risky research at a sloppy Chinese lab. The same lab that sprung this pandemic on the world. You know why people don’t trust you, don’t you?”
By “ambush” and “kill shot,” Watters was proposing a surprise, on-the-street interview with an unwitting and unwilling subject — a practice pioneered by investigative journalism shows like “60 Minutes” but now frequently used by political partisans to embarrass public officials with a damaging bit of video clip. And Watters suggested a Fox News show that would be interested in the resulting footage: “Imagine Tucker Carlson teases that … ‘Coming up: Brave college student confronts Lord Fauci at dinner. Exclusive footage.’ … That’s what we want. That changes the whole conversation of the country.”
But the Fox host also leaned into the violence of the metaphor: “Boom! He is dead! He is dead! He’s done!” (He encouraged the would-be ambushers to be “respectful,” however.)
The audience responded with laughter and applause. But on Tuesday morning, Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, didn’t find it so funny.
“That’s horrible. That just is such a reflection of the craziness that goes on in society,” Fauci told CNN host John Berman. “The only thing that I have ever done, throughout these two years, is to encourage people to practice good public health practices. … And, for that, you have some guy out there saying that people should be giving me a ‘kill shot’? To ‘ambush’ me? I mean, what kind of craziness is there in society these days?”
Fauci added that “the guy should be fired on the spot” but said he doubted that would happen: “He’s going to go, very likely, unaccountable.”
In a statement released by Fox News on Tuesday afternoon, the network said that Watters’s “words have been twisted completely out of context.” The network said that, “based on watching the full clip and reading the entire transcript, it’s more than clear that Jesse Watters was using a metaphor for asking hard-hitting questions to Dr. Fauci about gain-of-function research.”
Watters, who serves as a panelist on the 5 p.m. show “The Five” and has his own Fox News show on Saturday nights, rose to acclaim as a door-stepping correspondent who was filmed ambushing unsuspecting targets for a segment called “Watters’ World” that aired on then-Fox host Bill O’Reilly’s show. HuffPost Washington bureau chief Amanda Terkel claimed that Watters “ambushed and harassed” her while she was on vacation in 2009. “He never introduced himself and didn’t give any context for what he was saying — he simply shouted questions as I tried to switch out of vacation mode and remember the short post I had written weeks earlier,” Terkel wrote in 2016. In another clip, Watters confronted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who said he doesn’t “do ambush interviews” — to which Watters responded: “I do do ambush interviews.”
Fauci has become a regular target of criticism for conservatives, particularly the prime-time opinion hosts at Fox News, who have accused him of mishandling the public health bureaucracy’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this month, Fauci criticized Fox News after Lara Logan, who hosts a streaming show for the Fox Nation service, compared him to Nazi doctor Josef Mengele during a guest appearance on a prime-time Fox News show.
“It’s unconscionable what she said,” Fauci said of Logan during an appearance on MSNBC. “What I find striking is how she gets no discipline whatsoever from the Fox network. How they can let her say that with no comment and no disciplinary action? I’m astounded by that.”