Last night Tucker Carlson continued Fox News’ long and shameful record of hosting “COVID contrarian” writer Alex Berenson to continue spreading misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic and even discouraging use of the vaccines.
Berenson’s latest appearance was in response to a piece Thursday in The Atlantic in which writer Derek Thompson billed Berenson as “The Pandemic’s Wrongest Man.” The piece detailed the litany of false claims that Berenson has made about the pandemic — such as when he declared last fall that the United States would not reach 500,000 coronavirus deaths by the spring. (Just to be clear, that number was surpassed back in February. Not that Berenson changed his tune — during another appearance with Carlson in March, he ridiculed a speech by President Joe Biden as coming from a “bizarro world, where we're all still desperately afraid of the coronavirus.”)
But more importantly, Thompson explained the importance of writing the piece: “Usually, I would refrain from lavishing attention on someone so blatantly incorrect. But with vaccine resistance hovering around 30 percent of the general population, and with 40 percent of Republicans saying they won’t get a shot, debunking vaccine skepticism, particularly in right-wing circles, is a matter of life and death.”
Indeed, polls both nationwide and in multiple states show that significant percentages of Republican voters are either hesitant or outright refusing to get the vaccines. And all Fox did last night was to feed even more of this dangerous, unscientific nonsense to its own audience.
Carlson and Berenson like to say they’re just “asking hard questions” — then refuse to accept the answers
The fundamental dishonesty of this latest Carlson segment came right when he first laid out the premise of the interview.
“So there was a time not that long ago when the most freethinking people in a society, the people with the most questions, with the deepest thirst for knowledge, with the most curiosity went into journalism because you got paid to ask questions and to challenge the prevailing narrative,” Carlson said. “But sometime in the last 10 years, that just completely inverted, and now, the most closed-minded people in society work in journalism, but not as journalists, as gatekeepers, crushing and suppressing anyone who deviates from the approved script of the regime in power.”
He then billed Berenson as “a former journalist who asked a lot of inconvenient questions.”
Berenson also offered up during the interview: “Look, even if I'm wrong about all of this — and I'm not wrong about all of this — it's useful to have me and it would be useful to have other journalists asking hard questions.”
But if this is really just all about standing up for people who “asked a lot of inconvenient questions,” then Carlson and Berenson ought to have loved the Atlantic piece. After all, Thompson directly asked Berenson questions via email and quoted from Berenson’s responses.
And then Thompson went and asked even more questions to other people — that is, to actual experts, sometimes the very authors of studies that Berenson had purported to cite, and who could explain just how flagrantly wrong he was. Here is just one example:
When I asked Berenson to explain his beef with Israel’s vaccine record, he sent a link to a news story in Hebrew that, he said, reported “several hundred deaths and hospitalizations and thousands of infections in people who have received both doses.” I can’t read Hebrew, so I reached out to someone who can, Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Rehovot, Israel. He replied by email: “This link actually shows that the vast majority of those who died were NOT vaccinated.”
Thompson also responded Thursday night and offered a “suggestion” to Fox News producers. “If you must invite Berenson on your show, ask one of the scientists and experts he misrepresents in his tweets to join him on the segment,” Thompson tweeted. “I can help: I have their emails and phone numbers.”
And just to help them out even more, he provided this example:
Fox News lets Berenson spread false claims about vaccines — and anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists are thrilled with it
Fox News hosts have been undermining the vaccination campaign, spreading conspiracy theories about Democrats planning mass mandates — which actually come more from the operations of the free market and private businesses than government — even as society needs to get to a critical mass of 70% to 90% vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. Berenson continued to attack the vaccines Thursday night — while presenting himself as somehow different from any real nuts out there.
“I'm not telling you, ‘Oh, the vaccine plus 5G will make your brain explode,’ OK?” Berenson declared. “That's why they hate me; they hate me because they can't dismiss me.”
Berenson asserted that his claims “come out of the real world experience in Israel and other countries” and “reasonable, scientific questions that people have asked about the mRNA biotechnology behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.”
“And so because I'm not a conspiracy theorist,” he declared, “they hate me more.”
Of course, Israel is one of the obvious global success stories in terms of the effects of vaccination across a wide swath of the population — with a dramatic fall in hospitalizations amid a reopening economy — even though Berenson has lied about it for weeks.
And as for fearmoninging about the mRNA vaccines — a technology that is the product of 30 years of research and development — Berenson is now in the company of such “reasonable, scientific” people as Alex Jones and Steve Bannon.
Berenson also told younger people that they don’t even need to get the vaccine: “Before we decide we need to inject every 16-, 17-, 18-, you know, 25-year-old who basically has zero risk from this virus, OK, if you are under 25, or even, you know, 30, 40, if you're in reasonable health, you're very, very low risk from this virus — before we decide we have to mandate or quasi-mandate that, maybe we could ask a few questions.”
In his piece in The Atlantic, Thompson explained how this kind of thinking is both false and dangerous: “Based on data from COVID-NET, a surveillance network that captures hospitalizations across the U.S., hundreds of thousands of people under age 50 have likely gone to the hospital with COVID-19.”
And as for the idea that people in “reasonable health” have nothing to fear, not even professional athletes have been spared from the effects of long-haul COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Carlson’s segment with Berenson is now being promoted on the website of Robert Kennedy Jr., the notorious anti-vaccine conspiracy theory peddler who is also a close ally of Carlson’s Fox News colleague Laura Ingraham.
With this kind of content on Fox News, it almost makes a person long for the positive example and public leadership offered by Sarah Palin.