Fox News is home to some of President Trump’s biggest cheerleaders, which has paid off for the network in the form of exclusive interviews with the commander in chief and his aides who typically shun other networks. But Trump’s positive coronavirus test has turned any proximity into potential danger – particularly after Fox News had the honor this week of having one of its anchors moderate a presidential debate.

Anchor Chris Wallace sat 10 to 12 feet from a maskless Trump and Joe Biden in an enclosed space for the duration of the hour-and-a-half debate Tuesday – the most chaotic in modern history.

So when Trump revealed early Friday that he and his wife, Melania, had tested positive, Wallace became part of the story, but he also brought his trademark tough interrogation tactics and blunt truth-telling to the network’s coverage of the emerging story.

On air Friday, he challenged some of his colleagues’ reporting on Trump’s diagnosis and broke some news of his own – notably by revealing that Trump flouted the “honor system” for the two campaigns to arrive at the debate having already tested negative for the coronavirus.

Wallace acknowledged he was in a “uniquely vulnerable circle,” given he was on the debate stage with two other unmasked people, one of whom now has tested positive for the coronavirus. But, citing his doctor’s advice, he said he would wait until Monday for a test “because it takes five days for the virus to load up enough and I could have a test today and it’d be a false negative.” (Biden announced he tested negative on Friday.)

“We are taking all necessary precautions, including testing, to ensure the safety of our anchors, reporters and staff who attended the presidential commission debate in Cleveland or were in the proximity of the White House within the last week,” said a person familiar with the inner workings of Fox, who requested anonymity to speak about personnel matters.

Lachlan Murdoch, the CEO of Fox News’s parent company, was on hand in the Cleveland airport late Tuesday night to raise a glass of champagne to Wallace and the entire Fox News team who accompanied him – including anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, news division chief executive Suzanne Scott, and the company president, Jay Wallace.

Wallace later shared a plane back to Washington with District of Columbia-based colleagues, while Murdoch returned to Los Angeles, and Scott to New York. (Lachlan Murdoch did not meet with Trump or anyone from the administration, according to Megan Klein, a Fox Corp spokeswoman.)

Baier and MacCallum were the only Fox anchors in the hall. Other Fox personalities who were in Cleveland included Dana Perino, Juan Williams and Bill Hemmer, but they broadcast from a set across the street. Also on hand was Fox host Sean Hannity, who interviewed Donald Trump Jr. afterward. They bumped elbows and laughed at the gesture, assuring the audience that they had both been tested for the coronavirus. They joked about not wearing masks, and Trump Jr. noted that they might be thrown “in the gulag” for not doing so.

As news of the president’s diagnosis emerged Friday morning, Wallace – known for his independent stance at Fox and willingness to challenge the president – was on hand to lend a dose of skepticism to the network’s coverage.

When anchor Sandra Smith quoted an “exclusive” interview with White House pandemic adviser Scott Atlas – relaying his rosy prediction of Trump’s “complete, full and rapid recovery back to normal” and a return to the campaign trail – Wallace pushed back.

“I’m going to say something, and folks, I’m just trying to give you the truth. Dr. Scott Atlas is not an epidemiologist, is not an infectious-disease specialist, he has no training in this area at all,” Wallace said. “There are a number of top people on the president’s coronavirus task force who have had grave concerns about Scott Atlas and his scientific bona fides.”

Indeed, Atlas, a neuroradiologist, was hired into the White House job after capturing the president’s attention as a frequent guest commentator on Fox. He has clashed with other scientists by expressing skepticism about the value of masks or testing asymptomatic people.

With a nod to his sometimes-contentious dynamic with the president, supporters, and perhaps to his own prime-time colleagues, Wallace acknowledged, “I know I’m going to get a lot of pushback for this,” before he went on to urge Fox News viewers to “listen to people like Anthony Fauci and people like Deborah Birx who have been largely cut off, listen to the independent people who don’t have a political ax to grind. I frankly don’t think Scott Atlas is one of those people.”

Wallace delivered an unequivocal message on “Fox and Friends” on Friday morning, telling viewers “wear the damn mask and follow the science.” (“Oh my goodness!” uttered one of the hosts.)

He went on: “Forget the politics. This is a public, safety health issue. The president of the United States is in the most secure bubble in the world, in the sense that everybody who comes into contact with him has to take a test, and he still got it.”

Wallace has been the object of much criticism after Tuesday’s chaotic debate, including by liberals who said he didn’t do enough to control President Trump’s interrupting, and by conservatives – including Trump himself – who view Wallace as biased in favor of Biden. But on Friday, he tapped into his new insights about health protocols in the presidential bubble – revealing to viewers that while everyone but the three principals were supposed to be masked for the debate, several members of Trump’s party attended barefaced.

This included the first lady, who entered the hall with a mask but removed it after she sat down, Wallace said. He also noted a pool report that members of Trump’s family were approached by Cleveland Clinic staff who offered them masks but they waved them away.

Biden’s party entered with masks and kept them on throughout, as did Wallace’s wife and four of his children, Wallace said.

Later Wallace announced another piece of news, which was that when the president and his team walked through the venue to inspect the set up, none of them were masked. “Members of the Commission were not especially happy with the fact that the presidential party was not wearing a mask. There seems to have been a disregard for the risks of this virus,” he concluded.

Wallace noted that he never got closer to Trump than his moderator seat allowed. Trump did not approach him after the debate. But Biden did, and told him, “I bet you didn’t know you had signed up for this.”

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