Carlson told Vanity Fair that “I didn't feel it was my role” but was convinced by his wife to meet with Trump at Mar-a-Lago on March 7. Two nights later on his Fox show, he issued a pointed warning to viewers to prepare for the coming storm.
It speaks to both Fox News' influence with the president and his supporters that a cable news host was able to contact the White House and successfully request the two-hour meeting. Carlson drove to the president's resort from his Florida home, ironically on the day some guests at Mar-a-Lago were exposed to the virus.
He declined a request to speak to The Associated Press about it on Wednesday, and the White House had no comment on a private meeting.
Carlson had sounded the alarm about the coronavirus on his show earlier than this month. On Jan. 28, he criticized the media for spending more time on the impeachment trial than the virus and, on Feb. 3, told viewers that “you should be concerned.”
Yet his blunt March 9 commentary was eye-opening, particularly in how it contrasted with attitudes expressed by some Fox colleagues. At the same time as he was talking, Trish Regan on the sister Fox Business Network was denouncing the “coronavirus impeachment scam,” suggesting the stories were an attempt to attack the president. Four days later, Fox shelved her show.
“People you know will get sick,” Carlson said that night. “Some may die. This is real. That's the point of this script — to tell you that.”
Carlson said the nation's leaders haven't helped citizens take it seriously, criticizing liberals for saying it was racist to refer to “The Chinese Coronavirus” — words displayed on the screen behind him.
“If we're being honest, the other side has not been especially helpful, either,” Carlson said. “People you trust — people you probably voted for — have spent weeks minimizing what is clearly a very serious problem. It's just partisan politics, they say, calm down. In the end this is just like the flu and people die of that every year."
It's not, he said, noting that the death rate for the coronavirus was much higher.
He named no names. His fellow Fox News host, Sean Hannity, has repeatedly brought up seasonal flu in connection with the coronavirus, to the point where Dr. Anthony Fauci implored him last week not to ignore the new disease's lethality.
Most people who get the coronavirus have only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.
Fox confirmed that Carlson has not been tested for the disease and hasn't experienced any symptoms.
Carlson told Vanity Fair that he told Trump “exactly what I've said on TV, that this could be really bad.” He hasn't talked about his meeting on television and wanted to keep it a secret, although it was revealed in a story by The New York Times.
After weeks of trying to downplay the risk of the coronavirus, Trump has taken a more urgent tone in recent days and led daily briefings with federal leaders about developments.
“I think a lot of people around him, and I mean broadly around him — particularly Republican members on Capitol Hill, in leadership, too — were determined to pretend this wasn't happening,” he told the magazine. “I felt I had to do it, even though I suspected on some level it would probably hurt me if I did it.”
Carlson said it's hard to tell a straightforward story at a time people see most everything through a partisan or ideological lens. Polls have shown Democrats to be more concerned about the coronavirus than Republicans.
“It's hard to get people's attention if you know you're saying something that they suspect is political propaganda,” he said. “It's something people have worried about for a long time — what if there's a crisis, and no one will believe the coverage? Well, okay, that's where we are.”
He said a lot of people are to blame for that, “including probably me.”
The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.