The devastating impact of Fox’s vaccine recklessness

Tucker Carlson vaccines question

I joined CNN’s Brian Stelter on Sunday to discuss an argument that I’ve been making here for months: Fox News, by virtue of its position as the only source of information many of its viewers trust, has a unique moral responsibility to convince those viewers to preserve their health by taking the coronavirus vaccine. Stelter introduced the discussion by pointing out that unlike the hosts at other networks, Fox’s biggest stars haven’t been sharing photos of themselves during or after vaccination to try to encourage others to get the shots. 

Right-wing news outlets seemed to find this, as Fox’s Tucker Carlson put it, “hilarious.” 

“Reporters have decided that their job is to enforce the regime's rules, whatever those rules are, and no matter how often or radically those rules change,” the Fox host scoffed on Monday night. “We know that because this weekend, that weird little guy on CNN demanded that Fox News produce vaccine selfies to demonstrate our obedience to the Biden administration.”

And Carlson wasn’t alone in his mockery.

But roughly 48 hours after our discussion on Reliable Sources, a new poll showed the perils of the right-wing press' approach to the vaccine. Monmouth University's survey found a massive partisan split in public opinion on the vaccine. Democrats and independents say by large margins that they have been or plan to be vaccinated. But a whopping 43% of Republicans say they will likely never take the shot -- and that number has actually ticked up over the last month. 

This is a big problem. Those individuals are risking their lives with a virus that has killed more than 550,000 Americans to date. And with their ongoing reticence, the prospect of reaching herd immunity moves further out of reach.

For good or for ill, Fox’s opinion hosts are among the biggest stars on the right -- their viewers care what they think. If they encouraged those viewers to get vaccinated, it could make an impact. But they’ve decided not to do that.

Instead, the network’s most-watched program is a font of reckless speculation about the vaccines. Here’s what Carlson was doing last night when he wasn’t mocking the idea of signalling some virtue.

Carlson’s commentary spread far beyond his own sizable audience:

And that’s not unusual -- Carlson has become perhaps the nation’s most prominent coronavirus vaccine skeptic, regularly suggesting that the vaccines might be both dangerous and ineffective and that his viewers are justified in being hesitant about taking them.

4 screenshots of Tucker carlson covering coronavirus

Screenshots from Tucker Carlson Tonight on December 17, 2020; February 9, 2020; February 22, 2021, and March 12, 2021.

Unless Fox controls the damage it's done by sowing doubt about the vaccine, it will continue to risk the lives of its viewers. And the Murdochs -- and the advertisers who fund their outlet -- will bear responsibility for the results.