News Outlets Take Pete Hegseth's Joke as Serious, Won't Correct Hand Washing Stories
On Sunday morning, Pete Hegseth, co-host of "Fox & Friends Weekend," joked that he had not washed his hands in ten years. His fellow co-hosts laughed, but media outlets took it seriously. News outlets published think-pieces about how important it is to wash your hands. Major publications cast doubt on whether Hegseth was joking, even after he had made it painstakingly clear his nonserious statement was not serious.
While many media outlets have updated their stories to reflect that the hand washing statement was indeed a joke, many have not. Some merely threw an update at the bottom of a long piece excoriating Fox's Pete Hegseth for being such a dunce.
"I don’t think I’ve washed my hands for 10 years. Really I don’t really wash my hands," Hegseth said, placing his hands on his immaculate suit pants and engaging in classic deadpan. "I inoculate myself. Germs are not a real thing. I can’t see them, therefore they’re not real."
Journalists started picking up on the story, acting as though it were not obvious Hegseth was joking. Frustrated, the Fox News host tweeted to explain the obvious.
"To paraphrase the President from an hour ago: The Media is so self righteous and ANGRY! Loosen up and have some fun. The Country is doing well (as is my health!)," Pete Hegseth tweeted. Joking again, he concluded, "P.S. I also support drinking from garden hoses & riding bikes w/o a helmet. Cue outrage..."
When MSNBC's Chris Hayes tweeted, "He's....pretty clearly joking?" Hegseth retweeted it, remarking on how odd it was that Hayes, in particular, saw the obvious.
He also retweeted Clarion Project Director Ryan Mauro, who congratulated the Fox News host for "trolling millions /your deadpan humor! Haters thinking u r serious have reached a whole new level of stupid. Hatred causes ignorance."
Mauro also mocked the absurd literalism of taking this kind of sarcastic comment seriously. "Ignorance causes reactions to an obviously self-deprecating joke like it’s as serious as the Declaration of Independence," he tweeted.
The Washington Post ran this headline: "A Fox News host said he hadn’t washed his hands in 10 years. Was it a joke? We can’t tell." The paper hasn't altered the headline, even though Jacksonville.com — which ran the Post's story verbatim — updated its headline to end with "but he's kidding."
The Washington Post reporter, Michael Brice-Saddler, admitted that a Fox News spokeswoman told him Pete Hegseth was joking. He even quoted Hegseth's statement to USA Today, in which the Fox News host said, "My halfhearted commentary to the point is, we live in a society where people walk around with bottles of Purell in their pockets, and they sanitize 19,000 times a day as if that’s going to save their life. I take care of myself and all that, but I don’t obsess over everything all the time."
Brice-Saddler concluded his article by claiming that Hegseth "doubled down" in tweets on Monday while citing a Hegseth tweet from Sunday — the message that the media should "loosen up." The author also included a screenshot of a mock tweet with the hashtag "Don't Wash."
The Washington Post was far from alone in refusing to change the story after it became clear Hegseth was joking. The Guardian's Sam Wolfson reported that the Fox News host was "revealing that he has not washed his hands in a decade" (emphasis added).
Wolfson said Hegseth "gave mixed messages," quoted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on hand washing, and got in a few digs at Fox News and its host. "Fox has form, however, when it comes to denying scientific fact just because it is not immediately observable," the Guardian reporter wrote, slamming Fox News for giving climate change skepticism a platform. He even cited a Media Matters study on Fox's climate reporting.
"Hegseth, who served with the national guard in Iraq, was once reported to be Trump’s favoured pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. That role would have made him responsible for the health and wellbeing of 20 million Americans," Wolfson concluded. This disgusting insinuation twisted the host's joke in order to suggest the Trump administration endangers the health of Americans.
Fast Company's Joe Berkowitz cited Hegseth's joking disbelief in germs as an example of "the kind of backwards thinking that thwarts progress." Berkowitz did not update his story after it became painfully clear the host had been joking, and he even wrote, "Hopefully, Hegseth won’t suffocate once he realizes air must not be real because he can’t see it either."
RawStory ran two articles about the Fox News host and his super serious "admission," neither of which acknowledged that his remarks were made in jest. Contemptor also reported the story as a "reveal" of Hegseth's habits, rather than as a joke, and has thus far refused to update the story.
Men's Health ran an article about Hegseth's comments, using them as a launching pad to attack the trend of not washing hands after using the restroom. "We hope that Hegseth is joking," Eric Lutz wrote. Lutz has not updated the article to reflect the clear fact that he was.
Some outlets acknowledged that it was a joke, but still got in digs against the Fox News host. The New York Post's Emily Smith concluded her article with this line: "But sources say colleagues are still giving him a wide berth after he uses the bathroom." Forbes's Bruce Lee added an update to a long story that painstakingly explains how bad an idea it is not to wash your hands. Even Lee's update emphasized the importance of hand washing, however, as if his entire article had not done so enough.
On Tuesday, Pete Hegseth tweeted, "If the last 48 hours have taught my [sic] anything, it's that the internet is full of uptight & self-important people who take themselves waaaay too seriously—and take everything literally. Lighten up people. Get a sense of humor. All is well. Trump is our President!"
Indeed, it seems a great deal of the outrage over this joke was fueled by a hatred of Fox News and an insistence on taking a joke literally if the joke can be a weapon against conservatives.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.