“Everyone saw it as part of the normal rough and tumble for all things Trump — everyone but Fox goes after him, Fox defends him,” this person said.
Now, Fox is consumed by internal finger-pointing.
Network executives are blaming Mr. Trump, their own powerful hosts or Meade Cooper, the executive vice president who theoretically runs prime time programming, people familiar with their conversations said. Ms. Scott’s internal critics say it’s telling that only the little-known Ms. Regan lost her show — while the stars remain untouchable. And Ms. Scott has been furiously, belatedly, trying to get hold of the programming, insisting that Fox & Friends — the show on which Jerry Falwell Jr. suggested that the North Koreans were to blame for the virus — now always have a doctor involved in the show.
The finger-pointing extends to the very top. Lachlan Murdoch never called Mr. Hannity, whom he had just signed to a new contract, about his coverage. The closest Fox executives have come to taking decisive action appears to be boasting, off the record of course, that they have taken decisive action. Their explanations collide almost comically. A person who spoke to Rupert Murdoch says that the 89-year-old chairman reached out to Mr. Hannity to tell him to take the virus “seriously.” But other executives said they had no knowledge of the call, and Mr. Hannity said in a statement that “this is absolutely false and never happened.”
One level down, Ms. Briganti has complained that Mr. Carlson is casting himself to reporters as a heroic truth-teller in contrast with other hosts, according to two people who heard directly of the conversations.
But little seems to have changed in the Fox ethos. Fox’s shift to more serious coverage of coronavirus followed Mr. Trump’s own, and the hosts are now embracing his new strategy for rallying their shared base. Along with trying to persuade their audience to be safe (particularly in the less-watched daytime programming), they’re sharing unproven positive health news. And they’re recapturing partisan momentum by picking a fight about race and political correctness, emphasizing the Chinese origins of the virus, with no apparent concern for inciting bias against Asians.
On Saturday night, Ms. Scott sent another memo to the company’s rattled staff: The fourth case of coronavirus had been reported in Fox News’s headquarters on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.
“We are continuing to take every necessary precaution and to follow every protocol which includes deep cleaning all surfaces these employees were in contact with, in addition to the daily sanitizing and disinfecting that has been performed multiple times a day throughout all areas of the building.”
Employees on Sunday were exchanging panicked texts about whether they should go to work on Monday. But one person who surely wasn’t exposed inside Sixth Avenue was Lachlan Murdoch. He hasn’t been seen in the company’s New York headquarters for weeks.