How to become a Fox News star, according to Fox News star Jesse Watters
The worst thing about his advice on how to conduct ambush interviews has nothing to do with the words "kill shot."
A couple of days back, Florida lawyer Ron Filipkowski shared a 1:25 video of Fox News host Jesse Watters speaking at right-wing advocacy group Turning Points USA’s AmericaFest.
“The incendiary, dangerous, violent rhetoric against Dr. Fauci continues at AmericaFest,” tweeted Filipkowski. “Fox News host Jesse Watters tells them how to go after him to harass him in public: ‘Now you go in with the kill shot - deadly. Because, with an ambush, he doesn’t see it coming.’”
The following day, Fauci addressed the clip during an interview with CNN’s John Berman, calling the comments “crazy” and adding that he believed Watters “should be fired on the spot.”
While I think most people can agree that using the words “kill shot with an ambush? Deadly,” is probably not helpful in this particular moment in time, something about the clip felt off to me. It seemed odd that the video started with Watters saying “Now you go in for the kill shot.” So I wanted to do a little research before weighing in.
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What did he say before “now you go in for the kill shot?” This.
The full clip is a little more than 7:30 long, and while you obviously can’t expect people to sit through that full video, there was an additional 0:55 of context that Filipkowski could have included but didn’t.
I found the clip, put the whole portion on YouTube so you can see it, and did a rough transcription of it, published in full below:
Full transcript [emphasis mine]:
You guys like James O'Keeffe, right? Now James O’Keefe goes to people’s homes and sticks mics in their face and makes them ashamed of themselves because they screwed up. So James O’Keefe makes people awkward and that’s what we want. I’m sick and tired of conservatives always playing defense, right? It’s time for us to go on offense. We have to make them play defense. We’re always putting out fires, “Stop, stop, stop.” No, we need to go on offense, and this is how we’re going to do that.
I’m going to deputize all you guys to be little James O’Keefes, okay? And this is how we’re gonna get this done. Because you guys are in these college campuses, you guys are spread out all over the country, you guys have politicians flying in, officials flying in, you guys have to take advantage of that. Make a name for yourselves.
Alright, let’s just say Fauci comes to town. Let’s pretend he’s this podium. He’s about the same size. You gotta ambush a guy like Fauci. Okay, this is how you do these ambushes like O’Keefe.
You gotta be respectful because they’ll turn the tables on you. And you can’t have a blow-up in your face, so if you see Fauci out and about, and you know he’s coming to town, this is how you approach, okay?
First, you identify yourself. You say … My name is [your name], I’m from [name of school]. Do you mind, Dr. Fauci, if I ask you a few questions?
He’s going to say no, but you were polite. So if he says, “No, no, no, no, not right now,” you say, “No, no, no, we’re going to address this right now.” That’s how you turn the tables and you start it with an aggressive posture.
Then you hit him with the first question. The first question can’t be a “yes” or “no” question because his answer can just be “yes” or “no.” You have to elicit - it has to be a “how” or “why,” so what you do with Anthony Fauci is you say, “Dr. Fauci, why did you lie?” Okay, “Why did you lie?” I love that question. Hit him with, “Why did you lie when you said that you didn’t fund gain of function research at the Wuhan lab?”
Now Fauci, he did. He funded it. So he’s either going to deny it — he can’t deny it because he’s going to lie again, or he’s just gonna speak gibberish. You let them talk. Get it on tape with your iPhone or your buddy’s iPhone. I don’t have time to get into the technicality of it. But you let them talk.
And here’s your follow-up. Now there’s a little trick of the trade. Keep a little document in your pocket, alright? This is the grant that funded the research, it’s in your pocket. Now, you can print it out. It’s on the internet. You know what it is, or if it’s a blank sheet of paper, you hold the sheet of paper up for effect.
You say, “I have the grant right here, Dr. Fauci,” and you wave it in his face. You wave that in his face for the camera, for flair. And then you read it to him. You summarize. You say, “It says right here, 2014, 800 grand. This is your agency. Why do you continue to lie, doctor?” and you wave it.
Now, by that time, I mean, this guy is scrambling at this point. You have the goods, you have the goods. Because he’s been able to dodge and weave on the ABC and NBC, no one’s ever hit him in the face like this. Not even Rand Paul has been able to get in his face and point with the grant in his face. So then he’s in trouble. Now you go in for the kill shot.
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. You know why people don’t trust you, don’t you?” Boom. He is dead. He is dead. He’s done. 30 seconds. That’s all you need. 30 seconds.
Now, you get that footage to us, you get it to Fox, you get it to Human Events, you get it to Breitbart, you get it to Daily Caller, you get it through the Turning Point pipeline. Imagine Tucker Carlson teases out of the A block, “Coming up: brave college student confronts Lord Fauci at dinner. Exclusive footage right back. Get us that. That’s what we want. That changes the whole conversation of the country.
I’ve authorized it. Just make sure it’s legal.
Or someone like Liz Warren. … So let’s say she does a Q&A at your college. Occasionally they expose themselves. They’ll do a Q&A. Now, Q&A, they’re sitting ducks because you’re a friendly questioner, right?
So you wait in line at the Q&A, and you have someone positioned with a camera. You can set this whole up. I’ll tell you about it someday. So, first question is your set-up. You only need two questions for the Q&A kill shot: the set-up and then the kill shot. So, the set-up question is super polite, super respectful.
“Senator Warren,” speak loud and project because remember, we’re using this on television. “Senator Warren, how big of an issue is white privilege in America?”
She thinks it’s a friendly question and she’ll drone on and on about white privilege and you let her talk. Then when she’s finished, here comes the follow-up: “So Senator Warren, if you believe in white privilege, then why did you steal an indian’s identity to get ahead professionally?”
Boom. Guys. She’s gone, but all hell’s gonna break loose. They’re probably gonna grab you and like throw you off the stage or wherever you’re asking the question from, but we got the tape! Hannity, “Coming up, Pocahontas confronted at Dartmouth!”
And then you guys are little stars, we can trust you, you have a career path. “Hey, aren’t you the chick that confronted Pocahontas?”
Internships. You know. So that’s what you want to do.
Given the full context of the clip, I don’t quite understand the laser focus people have on the “kill shot” portion, especially when there’s so much more to learn from it.
Look at this tweet from Jon Cooper, who has nearly 860,000 followers on Twitter, a following he’s built largely by tailoring his content specifically for mainstream liberals. Cooper falsely claims that “Jesse Watters publicly called for the ASSASSINATION of Dr. Fauci,” and then said that Watters “should be ARRESTED.”
But that’s not at all what he did. Once again, I think most people can probably agree that at this specific moment in history, it’s probably unhelpful (at best) to use the words “kill shot.” This is especially true given that Fauci has apparently received a number of legitimate threats to his life, leading to at least one arrest.
But did Watters call for Fauci’s assassination? No. He did not, and it’s not particularly helpful to pretend he did. On Twitter, I noted that this topic has been something of a personal hobbyhorse, having written about the tendency of politicians and people in news media to frame banal remarks (remember the freak out when Biden said he would “beat [Trump] like a drum” in the 2020 election, for instance? Or the 2018 midterm strategy of Fox hosts trying to convince their audiences that Democrats wanted to literally kill GOP voters? Or the right-wing outrage when Tim Kaine once called on people to “fight in Congress, fight in the courts, fight in the streets, fight online, fight at the ballot box?”). I remember those moments, and I’ve written about them repeatedly as bad-faith attacks built on absurd interpretations of Democratic comments.
This is the same thing but in the opposite direction. While I understand if people think it’s appropriate to “fight fire with fire,” I don’t think it’s an intellectually honest thing to do. That said, I think there are a few very important moments in Watters’ remarks that have gotten overshadowed by the “kill shot” aspect of things.
Watters’ speech was essentially a how-to clip for becoming a Fox News star.
This is something that people at other media outlets just don’t do. As Dave Weigel of The Washington Post tweeted, “Imagine Chris Hayes telling Netroots which questions to ambush Rs with,” referring to the annual progressive activist conference. He’s right. That’s just… not a thing that people at mainstream news outlets do.
Here are the important takeaways from Watters’ words, in my opinion:
Watters has a very long history of ambushing people for these kinds of interviews dating back to when he was doing it on Bill O’Reilly’s show. Politicians, journalists, bloggers, regular people — Watters did this a lot, following people around and whatnot. What he described in his speech is precisely what he’s always done, and it’s worked out really well for his career.
After Tucker Carlson was confronted by a man in a Montana fishing shop, Fox News responded, “Ambushing Tucker Carlson while he is in a store with his family is totally inexcusable. No public figure should be accosted regardless of their political persuasion or beliefs simply due to the intolerance of another point of view.” Conservatives clutched their pearls over it, but as Watters illustrates with his address, it’s something that right-wing media explicitly approves of when it’s done to people they think of as being on the left.
Yes, they all know that they’re hypocrites, and pointing out their hypocrisy won’t change how they operate. That said, remember this the next time people flip out when someone on the left confronts a politician or other public figure to ask them questions or otherwise share their views. Watters explicitly mentions confronting people at their homes (referencing O’Keefe) and at restaurants (referencing a hypothetical confrontation of Fauci). It’s important for mainstream media outlets to understand that any whining about right-wing public figures being confronted will be coming from a place of absolute bad faith (“Just make sure it’s legal” is the bar Watters set).
This should already be a given, but politicians and pretty much anyone who thinks they might be the target of one of these ambush interviews really need to keep up with what’s being said in the world of right-wing media so they have responses ready for various questions about things both real and (mostly) imaginary. This is basic comms 101 stuff, and as Watters said, a particularly bad clip can change “the whole conversation of the country.”