Fox News’ PR representatives, desperate to salvage the reputation of a network that is literally killing its viewers by convincing them not to get vaccinated against COVID-19, have taken to sending out out-of-context snippets of star host Tucker Carlson purportedly praising vaccines on his show. “I’ve had a million vaccines in my life, as we all have. I think vaccines are great,” reads the quote provided to The New York Times last week.
The Fox PR team knows that reporters are generally conscientious enough to print the network response but not diligent enough to scrutinize the material. In the full quote from his April 27 broadcast, Carlson actually suggested that the vaccines may be ineffective and attacked the idea of requiring their use (Fox’s snippet in bold): “So if you can't answer very basic questions about a policy on which most Americans, including me — I've had a million vaccines in my life, as we all have. I think vaccines are great. But if you can't answer even the most basic questions, can you really force the policy on the population?” It’s implausible that Carlson’s viewers came away from that statement more encouraged about getting vaccinated.
Fox presumably pays its communications staff a hefty sum to burnish the network’s reputation by taking its hosts out of context. So it’s curious to see journalists and political professionals doing that work for free.
A snippet from Sean Hannity’s show in which he urged viewers to “take COVID seriously” and said that he “believe[s] in the science of vaccination” went viral on Twitter Monday night. While Hannity stopped well short of actually encouraging his audience to get vaccinated, in isolation, his comments seemed to cut against Fox’s prime-time narrative. Some commentators quickly responded to the clip by praising Hannity or saying that his remarks showed a real, positive change in the network’s tone. Others suggested that a new mandate had come down from the Fox brass to behave more responsibly.
Hannity’s sound bite was widely covered by the mainstream press and is apparently driving the day in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday:
This excitement is mistaken. It is the result of people who don’t watch a lot of Fox coming across something in their Twitter feed that, removed from its original context, confounds their expectations. In reality, while Hannity has never been quite as bad on the COVID-19 vaccines as his prime-time colleagues, his viral monologue came in the middle of a segment in which he railed against colleges and universities that are requiring their students to get their shots.
Here's the full segment:
Hannity’s show, in turn, is bracketed between those of Carlson and Laura Ingraham, who have been much more hostile to the vaccination effort, frequently undermining their viewers’ confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines.
On Monday, Carlson revived his lie about a government database purportedly showing thousands of deaths from the vaccines and urged viewers to ignore journalists who are encouraging vaccination because they want to “make you comply,” over on-screen graphics reading “MANY VACCINATED PEOPLE ARE HOSPITALIZED” and “OUR LEADERS WANT US TO SHUT UP & NOT ASK QUESTIONS.” Ingraham’s broadcast likewise stressed reasons to question “the efficacy of the vaccine itself among adults.”
This is what Fox viewers who watched the network’s prime-time coverage saw last night.
It’s like this every night. Claims undermining or downplaying coronavirus vaccines were included in every single segment about the vaccines on Fox prime-time shows over a recent two-week period. Across the network’s total coverage, nearly 60% of segments included such commentary.
Like Hannity, Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy is enjoying a round of positive coverage after he explicitly urged viewers to get vaccinated on Monday’s show. But that also doesn’t point to a broader trend at the network. His co-host Brian Kilmeade immediately pushed back on his statement, telling viewers to “make your own decision.” And it was Kilmeade who had the opportunity to reinforce his message to Fox’s evening audience.
Fox’s most popular hosts have been undermining the effort to vaccinate their own audience for months. The network has been getting viewers -- at least those who took its pandemic coverage seriously -- killed for more than a year. It will take much more than out-of-context calls for people to consult their doctor and take the virus seriously to even begin to undo that damage.