Last week’s toll of more than 16,000 recorded U.S. deaths from COVID-19 is made all the more heartbreaking because so many of the deceased had the opportunity to take vaccines that dramatically reduce the danger posed by the virus. Robert LaMay, a former Washington state trooper whose tragic death from COVID-19 was confirmed by the press over the weekend, was one such victim.
Fox News has tried to turn workers who refuse vaccine mandates into culture war heroes, even though the network itself voluntarily imposed a requirement that its own employees be either vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 daily. LaMay became the latest such figure in October, after he resigned from the state police rather than follow Washington state’s vaccine requirement.
The network’s hosts and others on the right promoted LaMay’s story and presented his refusal to take a lifesaving drug as an example their audiences could emulate. But once his 15 minutes of fame were over and he could no longer be used to further the right-wing agenda, LaMay became expendable – his passing from the virus has not been mentioned on Fox as of posting time.
LaMay, a 22-year veteran of the force, said he received a religious exemption from Washington state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate but ultimately decided to resign before it took effect after being told he would have to take a different position. Video of his final signoff in his cruiser, in which he told Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee to “kiss my ass,” went viral after it was shared on October 16 by right-wing local radio host Jason Rantz.
Fox’s propagandists wanted their audience to hear LaMay’s story.
On October 18, LaMay appeared on Fox & Friends First, with co-host Carley Shimkus concluding the interview by saying, “The choices that people like you are being forced to make are pretty unbelievable,” and praising him as “a fantastic police officer” whose resignation was “Washington state’s loss.”
On Fox News Primetime that night, host Will Cain explicitly tied LaMay’s situation to that of his viewers. He opened his show by saying, “I understand that there are hundreds of thousands of you, millions perhaps, set to start losing your jobs today,” before airing video of LaMay’s sign-off and predicting that as state and federal vaccine mandates took effect, “you’ll see more videos like that.”
Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria and Fox News’ America’s Newsroom also covered his resignation that day. Other right-wing outlets like Newsmax, the Daily Wire, and a slew of talk radio programs also promoted LaMay’s story.
LaMay likely reached his biggest audience the following night when he appeared on Laura Ingraham’s prime-time Fox program. Ingraham has been a relentless critic of the vaccines and efforts to get people like her viewers to take them, and she used LaMay’s story to advance her anti-vaccine narrative, portraying him as one of a host of people who have been ill-used by the government because they don’t want to get their shots.
“What's next for you — other than being a celebrity now — what's next for you?” Ingraham asked toward the end of the interview. LaMay replied that he was “spokesperson” for thousands, even millions of Americans, and also that he had some great job prospects.
“All right, well, a sleeping giant, maybe a sleeping giant,” Ingraham concluded, referring back to LaMay’s use of the term earlier in the interview. “We hope that that's what's happened here. We've awakened it slowly but surely. Robert, thank you for joining us. We really appreciate your voice and best of luck to you.”
On Friday night, the chief of the Washington State Patrol issued a statement announcing LaMay had passed away and praising him for his service, which “will be long remembered and appreciated.” News outlets, including Fox’s website, quickly confirmed that he had lost his battle with COVID-19 at age 51. Soon after, commentators began criticizing Ingraham and her ilk for their handling of LaMay’s story.
Ingraham will have an opportunity to address her critics on tonight’s show – but there’s no reason to expect her to change course. Perhaps, like Rantz, she’ll go on the attack and present as the real villains people on social media supposedly gloating over LaMay’s death. Perhaps she’ll skip the story altogether and continue her anti-vaccine advocacy work, maybe with a “Positively Boosted” segment laughing at vaccinated Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) for testing positive for COVID-19.
Regardless, LaMay’s brief blip of right-wing “celebrity” won’t comfort his widow or help to raise his four children. And Fox’s stars and the executives standing behind them will continue to encourage more of these tragedies.
Update 2 (2/2/22):