On MSNBC’s All In, Chris Hayes and Angelo Carusone discuss how Fox props up anti-vax culture war heroes to promote deadly anti-vax lies

Video file

Citation From the January 31, 2022, edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes

CHRIS HAYES (HOST): Robert LaMay was a Washington state police officer who became something of a hero on the anti-vax right after he was fired from his job last October for refusing to get vaccinated. The man gained particular notoriety for his rather crude send-off to Washington's Democratic governor, Jay Inslee.


HAYES: In addition to a number of glowing segments, that video earned LeMay two interviews on Fox News, including one with the network's primetime star Laura Ingraham, who said the officer had become a celebrity for his refusal to get vaccinated.


HAYES: A month ago, LaMay was tragically hospitalized with COVID, and after spending some time on a ventilator, he succumbed to the virus last Friday. He leaves behind a wife and four children. It's an unbelievably sad story. LeMay was a true believer who really did not trust the vaccine, and he lived his values and principles. LeMay is also not alone. I mean, a staggering number of law enforcement officers have died from COVID. In fact, it has been their leading cause – of all cops in the country – the leading cause of death for two years now. It's also a microcosm of a larger daily tragedy in America that's almost unfathomable. We're still losing a shocking number of people every day. Now, roughly a year after vaccines became widely available, an average of around 2,500 Americans are dying day after day after day after day after day. 2022 will be another year in which COVID is one of the leading causes of death in America. In fact, more people died from COVID in one eleven-day period this month than have ever died from homicide in an entire year in this country's history.

The vast majority of those deaths are entirely preventable. That's what's so maddening and so upsetting because all it takes is a few shots to confer hugely beneficial reduction in risk. The horrifying tragedy of America right now is embodied in this story of this individual who lived his values, who was not pretending – really did what he believed in. Those values, no doubt informed by right-wing media, including Fox News. Robert LeMay, did that interview with Laura Ingraham from his squad car. She appeared to be safely ensconced in some remote studio. Ingraham's almost certainly vaccinated, probably boosted because she works for Fox News, a company that takes this virus very, very seriously, at least behind the scenes. They've got all sorts of regulations. They mandate a vaccine or constant testing for their employees.

But of course, that message does not make it to the committed viewers of the network. No, no, no. They only hear the anti-vax talking points that made Robert LeMay a celebrity. For their own ratings, for fame, for cynical monetary purposes – I think they – I don't know, they don't have enough money? That network, which is overseen by CEO Suzanne Scott, she's the woman who calls the shots over there, and you should know her name, has decided to fan the flames of vaccine resistance. And those flames are getting thousands of people killed, thousands and thousands and thousands. And when those people die, they are, of course, forgotten by Fox News. LeMay passed away on Friday, and as of this afternoon, the network has not mentioned his death once. This is just one sad chapter in our broader story of preventable tragedy that continues to grind on in America, driven largely by the enterprise that Rupert Murdoch and Suzanne Scott oversee.

Angelo Carusone is the presidency of Media Matters for America, which has reported on the story of Robert LeMay, and he joins me now. Angelo, I just want to be clear and respectful here. First of all, there are people who die of COVID who are vaccinated. It is not – it doesn't stop you from succumbing to the disease. It's also no one's fault if they get an infectious disease. I, you know, it doesn't adhere to someone ethically if you catch COVID or you get very sick with COVID. What we do know is that vaccination and particularly boosted on top of vaccination reduces by fifteen, sixteen times people's risk of death. And what is the message been from Fox about vaccination in the main?

ANGELO CARUSONE (PRESIDENT, MEDIA MATTERS): The bottom line, you know, people don't remember the individual claims, right, they remember the narrative, the takeaway. And the takeaway from Fox News is not only that the vaccine is not effective, but Fox's current coverage is that the vaccine will kill you. That is the bottom line takeaway – that it is either going to hurt you more than COVID would or alternatively, that it's some kind of an effort to take away your freedom. And if you get vaccinated, you're actually giving in to liberal totalitarians and a whole bunch of other negative things will come from it. So they sort of give you an either-or takeaway. But that's the that is the summation of Fox News' coverage.

HAYES: How much do you think that's how much is that supply and how much is it demand? Meaning how much are they catering to the views of their audience already and just chasing them with no concern for whatever that might do ethically? And how much of this is is, you know, their sort of agenda?

CARUSONE: So, I think that's a very good question, because it actually gets to the thing that adds another layer of disappointment and tragedy to these already tragic deaths. It didn't have to be this way. You can go all the way back to April of 2020, when Fox News, in just a span of a week, devoted ninety-one segments to getting people to go out to the re-open events to actually and to flout public health measures. And you can actually measurably track the change in vaccine skepticism, but not just vaccine skepticism. Their anti-vax coverage as part of anti-public health measure coverage as well. They track very closely together. So there was a moment when their audience, you know, obviously a core part of them would have some hesitancy or some anxieties. But the real fuel here and that big shift that you're referring to, it didn't have to be that way. It really was a consequence of supply. Fox News didn't just flood the market with the vaccine, sort of anti-public health measures, they cornered it. And I think that's why it's had such lethal effects.

HAYES: Rupert Murdoch, of course, is the owner of Fox News and has properties across the world, Australia and the UK and across the English-speaking world particularly. And my understanding is that his properties in the UK do not take this line, that this is a Fox choice. And in fact, Murdoch put out a statement when he very early in line to go get the vaccine and praised the National Health Service and has his vaccine. But you know, this is his network and they're choosing to do it.

CARUSONE: That's right, and you know, and I think I'm part of that is cultural, right, that the other countries are taking a little more seriously, although they're starting to be kernels of pushback that's beginning to metastasize in a similar way. But it's not as acceptable. It's like getting in an elevator and start behaving badly, right? There's a norm. People will enforce that, say calm down. It's the same thing. They're science. Societies won't tolerate that. Not just from a public pressure perspective. The marketplace won't tolerate it. And in Australia, their channels there were sanctioned on YouTube in a very meaningful way. They lost their distribution rights for some COVID misinformation so the penalties were harsh enough to actually make them engage in a normative and acceptable way. That just hasn't been the case here. It's been sort of perverse. They've actually been rewarded for this. And I think that's the real challenge here is that while we focus online for some of these little pockets of misinformation and there are takedowns, Fox News for some reason has been grandfathered in and they've been able to avoid any of the accountability that much smaller actors have had to endure.

HAYES: That's a good point. It's the most horrifyingly breathtakingly cynical and inhumane thing that I have seen in my time in public life in the media. There's just nothing that compares to it. Astounding.