LIVE

"I felt I had a moral obligation to be useful in whatever small way I could," Carlson said

By Sean Neumann
March 18, 2020 05:16 PM
Advertisement

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson says he went to Donald Trump‘s Mar-a-Lago Club earlier this month to talk to the president about the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak, which he says the Trump administration and assorted allies hadn’t yet fully realized.

In a Vanity Fair interview published this week, Carlson recounts his effort to — in his words — open Trump’s eyes to the gravity of the virus.

He told the magazine he went to Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, club on March 7 in the middle of former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle‘s birthday party, which he didn’t even realize was taking place.

“I had no idea that was in progress until I walked into it,” Carlson told Vanity Fair. “I had no idea. I didn’t know it was her birthday until I walked into the room. My intention was to get in and out of there without being seen by anybody.”

The Tucker Carlson Tonight host, 50, talked to Trump for two hours at his club, according to Vanity Fair, in a meeting that had been pre-arranged.

Carlson declined to be quoted discussing Trump’s reaction, Vanity Fair noted. “The oncoming pandemic, Carlson told him [Trump], was an existential threat to the nation,” according to the magazine.

“I said exactly what I’ve said on TV, which is this could be really bad,” Carlson said of his conversation with Trump, 73. “My view is that we may have missed the point where we can control it. Once you get cases of community transmission, as we have all over the country now, by then it was clear it was happening.”

The coronavirus outbreak had infected more than 200,000 people worldwide as of Wednesday afternoon and about 8,200 people had died.

In the U.S., as of Wednesday, there were about 7,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 121 deaths, according to a New York Times tracker.

In recent days President Trump has pointedly changed his tone when discussing the seriousness of the virus, which he had earlier claimed Democrats were trying to politicize as a “hoax” to damage him. Some of that rhetoric was shared by Fox News’ opinion hosts, as noted by The Washington Post.

Trump had also previously downplayed the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19, in comparison to the seasonal flu — though experts say it is much more dangerous if it is able to infect as many people. (People over 60 and with underlying health conditions are most vulnerable.)

tucker carlson
Tucker Carlson
| Credit: Fox News
775234152CG00080_Politicon_
Tucker Carlson
| Credit: Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty

Carlson told Vanity Fair that he tried to warn Trump during their conversation earlier this month at Mar-a-Lago, around the time the president’s rhetoric about the coronavirus began to shift. At one point Vice President Mike Pence joined that conversation.

Carlson said that early 2020 (when news about the virus began getting picked up worldwide after it first emerged in China in late 2019) was “just a politically charged time” as he framed some of the ensuing coverage, including from Fox News.

“When you live in a country where everything is political and people are seeing, you know, every development through an ideological lens, either as a way to gain advantage or as a threat to their current advantage, it’s very hard to tell a straightforward story,” Carlson said. “And it’s hard to get people’s attention if you know you’re saying something that they suspect is political propaganda. It’s something that people have worried about for a long time. What if there’s a crisis, no one will believe the coverage. Well, okay, that’s where we are.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily assign blame to either side,” Carlson continued. “I have my own opinions about who’s more responsible, but clearly everybody is to some extent, probably including me.”

He told Vanity Fair that while he “really disapprove[s] of people straying too far outside their lanes and acting like just because they have solid ratings, they have a right to control public policy,” on the matter of the virus he felt differently.

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaking from the Rose Garden on Friday

“I felt I had a moral obligation to be useful in whatever small way I could, and, you know, I don’t have any actual authority. I’m just a talk show host. But I felt — and my wife strongly felt — that I had a moral obligation to try and be helpful in whatever way possible,” Carlson said.

“I probably shouldn’t have gone and talked to the president about this since I’m not any kind of policy adviser,” he said. “I’m not an epidemiologist.”

But he felt he had to, he said. Though he wasn’t sure if it made an impression on the president or his administration.

“I don’t know. You can assess that yourself,” Carlson told Vanity Fair. “You can look at the timeline, but my only comment would be that it’s not my job to do that. All I felt was I just want to say what I think and that’s my responsibility.”