Controversial ‘The Five’ co-host Jesse Watters gets a daily program on Fox News
Fox News is turning over a nightly hour to Jesse Watters, an irreverent and controversial co-host of its roundtable show “The Five” who is one of the channel’s most provocative personalities.
The naming of Watters comes two weeks after incendiary comments he made last month about Dr. Anthony Fauci at Turning Point USA’s Americafest, a right-wing conference held in Phoenix. Watters told the audience they should confront the infectious disease experts with questions about the origins of the coronavirus.
“Now you go in for the kill shot,” said Watters, according to a video clip of his appearance. “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.’”
In describing the impact of such a confrontation, Watters said, “Boom! He is dead! He is dead! He’s done!”
Watters, 43, told the audience to act respectfully and “make sure it’s legal,” but the comments were seen as irresponsible, as Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical advisor, has been subjected to death threats. Fox News commentators, highly critical of Fauci’s handling of the health crisis, have stoked some of the anger toward him.
When asked by CNN about the violent metaphor, Fauci called for Watters to be fired. But Fox News did not apologize, saying Watters was suggesting only that Fauci needed to be subjected to tougher questioning by the media.
Polarizing politics are making topical talk shows a rough ride for contrarian voices.
Fox News rarely responds to negative feedback aimed at its hosts, and hiring decisions are largely dictated by Nielsen ratings. Since the network began trying out hosts in the 7 p.m. Eastern hour, the fill-in stints by Watters performed best, especially among viewers in the 25-to-54 age group who are most desired by advertisers.
Watters is well-known to the Fox News audience. He began as a production assistant in 2002 and a year later began making appearances on Bill O'Reilly’s program, where he did ambush interviews of the host’s favorite on-air targets.
Watters also did person-in-the-street segments on O'Reilly’s program, some of which drew criticism for being demeaning to their subjects. When interviewing residents of New York’s Chinatown in 2016, Watters asked if he was supposed to bow to greet them, if they were selling stolen goods and if they could “take care of North Korea for us.”
Watters, who has had a weekend program on Fox News since 2017, does not pretend to be a journalist or a serious commentator. He relishes having his contrarian points outrage Fox News critics on the left. His recent best-selling book is titled “How I Saved The World.”
Fox News announced early last year that it was turning the 7 p.m. hour over to an opinion host, moving news anchor Martha MacCallum to an earlier time slot. At the time, the network was losing viewers, many of whom were angry that it had accurately called Donald Trump’s election loss in Arizona on election night even though the results were still fairly close at the time.
Since that brief slump, Fox News has added more commentary to its programming lineup, as opinion tends to draw larger audiences on cable news than straight reporting.
Fox News recently lost Chris Wallace, considered its most evenhanded journalist, who is joining CNN’s streaming service. Other analysts and producers have left the Washington bureau over the last year due to the more strident commentary by its opinion hosts such as Tucker Carlson.
Fox News has since secured its ratings dominance over competitors CNN and MSNBC, but all three channels saw significant audience losses in 2021 coming off their record year in 2020.
Watters will remain on “The Five,” the roundtable program that frequently draws more than 3 million viewers and often ranks as the most watched hour on cable news.
“The Five” has been an effective launching pad for other hosts on the channel. Daytime host Dana Perino, a former communications director in George W. Bush’s White House, started on the program.
“The Five” co-host Greg Gutfeld was given a nightly comedy talk show at 11 p.m. Eastern and is drawing audiences that are competitive with the broadcast network late-night programs.
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