The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Maria Bartiromo isn’t done with misinformation just yet

Host Maria Bartiromo at Fox Business network studios in New York City on Jan. 10, 2020. (Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)
6 min

While being deposed by lawyers for Dominion Voting Systems as part of a massive defamation lawsuit against his company, Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch did not offer a glowing endorsement of Fox News and Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo.

Was Bartiromo a “credible source of news to her viewers?” Murdoch was asked.

“You will have to ask her viewers that,” he replied.

Then Murdoch was asked whether he believed she was.

“Very often,” he replied. “Yes.”

Being “very often” a source of credible news means that “sometimes” or even “often” she is not — not the sort of admission one might expect from the head of an organization ostensibly focused on providing objective news coverage. But Murdoch wasn’t wrong, certainly, as Bartiromo reinforced Thursday.

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Hosting her daily show on Fox Business, Bartiromo interviewed Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). The conversation included discussion of former top government health official Anthony Fauci, a longtime foil of Paul’s. Fauci recently decried attacks on his performance during the coronavirus pandemic as politically motivated — a position that’s certainly well-founded — prompting Bartiromo to seek out Paul’s response.

In short order, though, Bartiromo demonstrated her own position on Fauci, suggesting that the government misled the public about the effectiveness of other drugs to get coronavirus vaccines approved for distribution.

“There were also all these lies around the emergency authorization,” Bartiromo said. “They needed the emergency authorization to get the vaccines down everybody’s throats. But in order to do that, they had to prove that there was nothing else on the market that could actually treat covid when we all know ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine were effective, weren’t they?”

Paul, a politician and a physician, demurred, replying that prior infection was a way to build immunity. A non-politician might have addressed Bartiromo’s claims more directly: No, they weren’t.

As with Fauci, assertions about those two drugs were heavily intermingled with motivated political rhetoric. Donald Trump, president when the coronavirus pandemic began, was eager to suggest to Americans that drugs could quickly and effectively treat covid-19 so that he could get the economy back to normal before his reelection bid in 2020. But research repeatedly showed that both hydroxychloroquine (which Trump hyped repeatedly) and ivermectin (which emerged as a favorite on the right a bit later) weren’t demonstrably useful in combating the disease. In fact, a common method of treating covid with hydroxychloroquine was linked to heart problems.

But it became an article of faith among skeptics of the government that these drugs worked. Trump-voting counties were more likely to see spikes in prescriptions for the medications. Conservative doctors were more likely to think hydroxychloroquine worked as a treatment.

Notice that Bartiromo goes further, though. She doesn’t just say that these unproven drugs were proven to work — she uses this as the basis for a conspiracy theory. It isn’t just that they worked despite the opinions of medical experts, it’s that their effectiveness was hidden from the public so that vaccines could be administered instead. This isn’t just a bad, noncredible argument about ivermectin; it’s a bad, noncredible claim about nefarious government actors looking to push vaccines over everything else. (Vaccines that saved countless lives and which helped lower covid-19 death totals in places where adoption was higher — often more Democratic places.)

This is not the first time that Bartiromo has wandered around this particular territory. She made headlines in late 2021 when hosting Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) for a conversation about the pandemic. That discussion centered on the purported futility and danger of the vaccine — arguments made in support of ivermectin as a treatment.

But covid-19 denialism is only a facet of Bartiromo’s turn to the hard right in recent years. She was quick to suggest that government warnings about an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine were meant to distract from a brief right-wing flare-up centered on Hillary Clinton. (Russia did, in fact, invade Ukraine.) She has offered misinformation about the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Most importantly — and to the point of the Murdoch deposition — Bartiromo has also played a central role in boosting Trump’s false claims about fraud.

Before the 2020 election, she gave Trump nearly an hour to present false claims and misinformation about voter fraud, one of several sycophantic interviews she granted him while he was president. On Nov. 29, 2020, after the election was settled, she allowed Trump to go on at length about how the election was stolen (it wasn’t), interjecting mostly to offer murmurs of assent. After Trump left office, she tried to reclaim the term “the “big lie”” to refer to things she insisted had been lied about by the left, insistences that were often wrong.

Bartiromo’s post-election coverage is a central part of Dominion’s defamation lawsuit. The voting-machine manufacturer was repeatedly and falsely maligned on Fox News and Fox Business as Trump and his allies tried to prove that the election was stolen — including on Bartiromo’s shows.

On Nov. 7, 2020, the day Fox News and other networks called the election for Joe Biden, attorney Sidney Powell forwarded Bartiromo an email rife with bizarre and obviously dubious claims about Dominion and the election. Offered by an artist from Minnesota — who, in the email itself, described the allegations as “wackadoodle” — some of the assertions ended up being presented on-air the next day in an interview between Bartiromo and Powell.

This was one of the first major interviews Powell wasgranted. Later that month, Fox News host Tucker Carlson would correctly criticize Powell for a complete lack of evidence for her claims.

Even at the time, Fox executives were wary of how Bartiromo was being influenced. A message from one executive to another, included in a Dominion legal filing, describes concerns that Bartiromo “has [Republican] conspiracy theorists in her ear and they use her for their message sometimes.” That message was sent the day that Bartiromo hosted Powell.

In other words, executives were wary of Bartiromo then, and the head of Fox News’s parent company, Murdoch, was unwilling to offer a robust defense of her more recently. But she’s still on the air, offering up assessments like coronavirus vaccines were only approved because the government covered up the effectiveness of a deworming medication.

Quite a fall for the once-respected reporter, if not her employer.