The Mighty Logo

What FOX News Host Pete Hegseth Missed When He Joked About Washing His Hands

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Paige Wyant, The Mighty’s chronic illness editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

On Feb. 10, FOX News host Pete Hegseth shocked viewers when he claimed he hadn’t washed his hands in 10 years.

“My 2019 resolution is to say things on air that I say off air. I don’t think I’ve washed my hands for 10 years,” Hegseth said. “I inoculate myself. Germs are not a real thing. I can’t see them, therefore they’re not real.”

“Fox and Friends” co-host Jedediah Bila then asked, “So you’re becoming immune to all the bacteria?” Hegseth responded, “Exactly, I can’t get sick.”

Viewers were quick to respond on Twitter with mixed reactions: some were disgusted by the lack of sanitary practices, while others approved. Several believed Hegseth was just joking.

After much debate on social media surrounding the validity of his claims, Hegseth responded on Twitter:

Though he never mentioned he was joking during the show, Hegseth said he thought it was obvious. “We’re on a show and we have fun and we banter,” he told USA Today. “If you look at Ed and Jedediah’s reaction, they are laughing like we are (on) every show.”

Hegseth said these jokes about his own sanitary practices were meant, rather, as a critique of how much people “overreact” to germs.

“My half-hearted 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,” he said. “I take care of myself and all that, but I don’t obsess over everything all the time.”

Hegseth said all the reactions to the incident made him laugh. “It’s ridiculous to me because of how people take literal and serious certain things and their heads explode,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”

While it seems as though we can breathe a sigh of relief that Hegseth has indeed washed his hands in the last 10 years (at least, we hope), his flippant attitude towards germs still poses several major problems.

1. Washing your hands and practicing proper sanitation is no joking matter.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, handwashing with soap is one of the best methods for removing germs and preventing the spread of germs to others. This helps reduce the spread of diarrheal and respiratory illness, particularly so you can avoid getting yourself and others sick. Washing your hands regularly and thoroughly is critical, as even just one gram of human feces can contain one trillion germs. (For more information on proper handwashing procedures, head here.)

Not washing your hands – or even joking about not washing your hands – goes beyond “disgusting.” If you consider how often a person uses the bathroom, touches public surfaces, changes a diaper, or handles raw meat, the number of germs likely to touch your hands across the span of 10 years is infinitely high.

If you were to never wash your hands and kill those germs, the potential for disease transmission would presumably be quite high as well. These diseases could make Hegseth and/or the people he comes into contact with extremely ill, and that’s no laughing matter.

2. Practicing proper sanitation not only benefits you – it can mean life or death for immunocompromised individuals.

Engaging in good sanitary practices is an important way to avoid contracting diseases and keep yourself healthy. However, what some folks like Hegseth may not consider is how much of an impact their sanitary practices can have on others.

In the original “Fox and Friends” segment, Hegseth joked that he was becoming “immune” to all the bacteria by not washing his hands. While this might not technically be true, what Hegseth fails to consider here is that the germs on his hands don’t only affect him. Those germs could easily be transferred to someone with a weaker immune system through a handshake or by touching the same doorknob.

There are many people who find it especially difficult to avoid the transmission of germs due to health conditions that result in a weakened or compromised immune system. For instance, some people could have an immunodeficiency that disrupts the body’s ability to defend itself, while others may be on medications that weaken the immune system, such as immunosuppressants or chemotherapy.

When the body’s defenses are lowered, getting sick can be dangerous. What might be a routine illness for the average healthy person could turn serious or even fatal for someone with health complications and a weakened immune system. Mighty contributor Lindsay Karp explains:

We chronic illness warriors weren’t always as frightened of germs as we are today, now that our bodies don’t know how to recoup like we once did. For many of us, our diseases flare when we catch a viral or bacterial infection, and it may take weeks or months to get back to where we were.

We did not choose to become chronically ill, we did not choose to be placed on immunosuppressive medication and we certainly did not choose to be in contact with your germs. But if you know someone like me, stay away from them. We’re not “crazy.” We’re not germaphobic. We’re simply trying to stay afloat in a body that can’t operate at full capacity.

Hegseth mocks people for walking around with Purell in their pockets and sanitizing “19,000 times a day as if that’s going to save their life.” But what he fails to realize is that, for some people, these sanitation practices could very well be the difference between life and death.

3. It’s not OK to mock or judge people who practice thorough hygiene and sanitation, whatever the reason may be.

Ultimately, it seems like Hegseth’s “joke” was aimed at people who practice thorough cleanliness. This so-called “cultural commentary” is not just lacking humor or cleverness, despite its packaging as a joke; there is simply no good reason to poke fun at people for practicing basic hygiene.

Maybe, as mentioned above, a person has a health condition that weakens their immune system, meaning they have to take extra precautions when it comes to avoiding germs. Perhaps an individual has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that manifests through handwashing or cleaning. Or maybe a person simply doesn’t want to get sick or get others sick, so they do their best to practice thorough cleanliness.

Hegseth doesn’t understand why people “overreact” to germs or why they take his jokes about germs so seriously. What I don’t understand is why it’s funny to joke about habits that could put people’s lives at risk, then mock those same people.

Handwashing is simple, and it’s something most of us probably don’t think about most days – but that doesn’t mean it’s not essential. Before joking about and trivializing basic hygiene, please consider just how much of an impact this utility has on people’s lives.

Screenshot via video from Aaron Rupar’s Twitter

Originally published: February 12, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home