Cumulus Media, the nation’s second largest commercial radio owner and the broadcaster responsible for airing such conservative voices as Dan Bongino, Ben Shapiro, and Mark Levin, announced in August that it would require employees to be vaccinated by the end of September, without exception. On October 18, Bongino launched into a tirade against Cumulus’ mandate on his radio show, calling it “immoral” and “a political decision.” Despite the company’s mandate, Bongino and a number of other nationally syndicated right-wing hosts continue to spread anti-vaccine talking points while receiving paychecks from Cumulus.
Many of the most popular conservative talk radio shows are put on air by Cumulus through its national syndication arm, Westwood One. The company’s hosts, and talk radio in general, have played a notable role in spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine, even as other anti-vaccine figures have succumbed to the illness. One such host was Cumulus’ own Phil Valentine, who promoted vaccine hesitancy before passing away from the illness in August, only days after the company announced its vaccine mandate.
Cumulus has a history of providing a platform for dangerous content while later instituting rules that run counter to its hosts’ rhetoric. Earlier this year, Cumulus received attention for issuing a directive to employees to cease spreading misinformation about the 2020 election after some of its hosts were implicated in promoting conspiracy theories leading up to the violent insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. Despite this directive, Cumulus hosts continued to spread misinformation on the election seemingly without repercussions.
Thus far, Cumulus seems to have followed through with enforcement of its mandate, with several of its hosts facing dismissal for refusing to be vaccinated. Others — including some of their biggest names — are already vaccinated but are using Cumulus' airwaves to spread vaccine hesitancy and misinformation.
- On his October 19 show, Levin guided his audience to take advantage of “medical and religious arguments” and provided a “legal roadmap” to dodge vaccine mandates. He went on to claim that there are “studies out of Israel and elsewhere that make it abundantly clear natural immunity is better, stronger than any of the vaccines.”
- On October 11, Levin called vaccine mandates a “war on freedom” and said Democrats "want to turn us into Red China.”
- The following day, Levin claimed natural immunity from COVID is “much stronger than the vaccines” and declared that the government is “involved not in following the science, but following political trickery” to support “their own ideology and power demands."
- On October 4, Levin said that “people who already had the virus, there is no reason for them to get the vaccine” and claimed that “natural immunity” is “27 times stronger” than a vaccine.
- That same day, Levin claimed “science just doesn't support ” government vaccine mandates.
- Levin hosted Fox News medical correspondent Marc Siegel, who said unvaccinated intensive care unit nurses shouldn’t be fired because they were “more likely to spread COVID” outside the hospital “as a result of that bullying and cruelty” of vaccine mandates, adding, “It's what we've been trying to get away from in the United States from 1776 on, that we're not supposed to be doing that here.”
- Levin said people “have power to fight back" against the “tyranny” of vaccine mandates, and said "if we're going to go down, we need to go down kicking.”
- Levin sided with a caller who claimed to be a firefighter paramedic refusing to get the vaccine on his September 30 show, telling her that she didn’t “even need the vaccine” because she had “natural immunity.”
- On September 28, Levin claimed that unvaccinated people with “natural immunity” were “less of a threat than people who’ve been vaccinated.”
- Levin called the federal vaccine mandates “totalitarian edicts” that are “violating the Constitution.”
- On September 10, Levin said it was a “flat-out lie” that unvaccinated people are causing hospitalizations and deaths during the pandemic and said Biden is the "closest thing to a dictator we've ever had in this country.”
- That same day, Levin said vaccine and testing requirements will “advance the cause of the iron fist and the police state.”
- After a caller said on September 9 that he would not enforce vaccine mandates at his business, Levin encouraged him to “find a couple other small businesses in a similar situation” and sue the government over the policy.
- On July 29, Levin said that “even the vaccinated will get the delta variant. ... So, what’s the point of being vaccinated?”
- Levin claimed that among those who were “not vaccinated” and contracted the delta variant, “the death rate is very low."
- Bongino addressed his “Cumulus struggle” and “protesting their vaccine mandate” during his October 20 show, saying he “wouldn’t be letting it go.” He went on to encourage his audience to join his protest, saying, “I'm one spoke in an enormous wheel of people who are fighting back. Don't let them break you. Don't let them break you. They want to break you. There's a cabal of idiots, little mini-tyrants and totalitarians who need subjugation, and they want you to kneel, get on your knees, sit in the corner, and shut your mouth.”
- While railing against the Cumulus vaccine mandate on October 18, Bongino said, “There is a very real thing called natural immunity. There's an even realer thing called freedom and liberty.”
- On October 13, Bongino claimed the government and media were trying to suppress supposed COVID-19 cures that weren’t “one of the two approved narratives for government control,” adding: “If it is not about jamming a vaccine in your arm or putting a mask on your face, I promise, if you dare mention -- if you had a miracle cure tomorrow, it will be crushed by the media and their leftist allies because it doesn't contribute to their government totalitarianism.”
- On his Fox News show, Bongino and guest Fox Business correspondent Dagen McDowell argued that vaccine mandates were hypocritical, with Bongino saying, “We have the abortion side, they’re like ‘my body, my own,’ but yet when it comes to vaccine mandates, the left has the completely opposite approach. It’s like, can we just pick a principle and stick to it for once?”
- On July 12, Bongino slammed the idea that everyone needs the vaccine and suggested that individuals who had COVID-19 in the past “likely have a significant antibody response still, or a T- and B-cell response, and obtained some form of long-term immunity.” Bongino also claimed that “big government totalitarians, they want to make sure they punish you and they see your liberty as a tool,” asserting that the government was pushing for vaccine distribution in order “to enact their big-state agenda.”
- On July 10, Bongino said Democrats are using vaccines in their “agenda of fear ... to get people to voluntarily give up their civil liberties.” He also called Biden administration officials “mini-totalitarians" for “pushing these door-to-door scare tactics.”
- While complaining about vaccine mandates on May 17, Bongino said, “Does the damn [vaccine] work or not? And if it works, what the hell are we doing wearing masks on our faces? What are we preventing if there's very little threat because you've been vaccinated? The stories can't coexist.”
- On his April 4 show, Bongino said that “forcing you by law to get a vaccine probably won’t work,” so “the left has figured out if they use their emergency powers under the pandemic to make you do things you don't want to do, that they'll get away with it.”
- Shapiro said on his October 20 show that he and other staff at The Daily Wire “were not going to be complying with the Joe Biden vaccine/mask mandate -- the vaccine/testing mandate ... because we thought this was a violation of freedom of association and basic liberty principles and could not come from the federal government.”
- On August 10, Shapiro said that everyone has the right to make “individual decisions” about receiving a vaccination in a “free country,” going on to claim that “the real problem in the big cities is that we have become accustomed to political actors turning one segment of the population against another segment of the population for purposes of control. You would not care as a vaccinated person about the unvaccinated person who lives near you, except that the public health official is using the unvaccinated person's very presence as a rationale for shutting down your life.”
- On his September 10 show, Shapiro called the national vaccine mandate for businesses “not just tyrannical, it is dictatorial in extremis” and called on “everyone who's listening to us to fight this obscene, tyrannical mandate.”
- On August 6, Shapiro argued that “vaccine passports” would actually lead to more spread of COVID-19. He went on to say that if private businesses required proof of vaccination, a “social credit system” where businesses would be “carding you for a wide variety of social sins” would follow.
- While talking about the vaccine on July 15, Knowles said that “a lot of people don’t want to get it and I think they have perfectly good reason not to.”
- On July 13, Knowles said, “If the vaccine were really so great for the virus that’s really so terrible and deadly and scary, you wouldn’t need to make life hard for everybody because life would already be hard for people because the vaccine would already be the easy choice. But because none of that is true, they have to contrive it. They have to make pretend.”
- Knowles claimed on July 9 that “if you need to bribe people with a million dollars to get this vaccine, maybe it’s not that desirable. Maybe this virus is not as bad as everyone told us it was since people are just not interested in getting it.”
- Knowles said people have the “political right to say no” to vaccines and that the government doesn’t “get to force all of us to take this experimental drug and you’re not going to go door-to-door to do it.”
- Knowles called the vaccine an “experimental drug that is very, very new” and went on to claim that “when people tell you there are no long-term side effects, they have no idea what they’re talking about because there’s not long term, because they just invented this thing for a virus that didn’t exist a year and a half ago. So don’t let them tell you that it’s 100% perfectly safe, no problems whatsoever.”