Fox News has relentlessly undermined the effort to get Americans vaccinated against the COVID-19 disease. From June 28 through July 11, 57% of segments about coronavirus vaccines on the network included claims that undermined vaccination efforts.
Amid a push from the Biden administration and medical officials to increase vaccination rates, Fox News has repeatedly fearmongered about and downplayed the need for continued vaccination campaigns. Fox News’ dismissal of vaccine efforts is particularly dangerous as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have surged in unvaccinated red states, with polling showing conservative and Republican voters -- who count Fox as their most trusted news source -- are less likely to get vaccinated. Further, The Salt Lake City Tribune reported that Gov. Spencer Cox (R-UT) blamed right-wing media anti-vaccination “propaganda” for the state's low immunization rates. The paper quoted Cox as describing the “recent push by Fox News, Newsmax, and other right-wing media against the vaccine” as “reckless.”
- Over a two-week period, from June 28 through July 11, Fox News aired 129 segments about coronavirus vaccines. Of those, 57% included claims that either undermined or downplayed immunization efforts.
- Forty-five percent of segments included claims suggesting that the vaccination drive is coercive or that it represents government overreach.
- Thirty-seven percent of segments included claims suggesting that vaccines are unnecessary or dangerous.
- Fox & Friends, including its early morning and weekend iterations, aired the most vaccine segments during this period, with more than half (52%) featuring claims undermining or downplaying immunization.
- All of Fox’s weekday evening opinion shows with vaccine segments -- Fox News Primetime, Tucker Carlson Tonight, Hannity, and The Ingraham Angle -- included claims undermining or downplaying coronavirus vaccines in those segments.
- Fox personalities and guests made a total of 216 claims undermining or downplaying vaccines in segments about coronavirus immunization.
- Pundits in vaccine segments made 151 claims undermining or downplaying vaccines, representing 70% of the total attacks on vaccination efforts. Fox hosts Brian Kilmeade and Laura Ingraham made the most such claims with 22 and 18 statements, respectively.
Over the two-week study period, Media Matters identified 129 coronavirus vaccine segments on Fox. Out of those, 57% of segments included claims that undermined or downplayed vaccines or immunization efforts.
In 58 segments, or 45%, Fox described immunization efforts as coercive or government overreach, or framed them with a false dichotomy of “personal choice” against “medical freedom.” Personalities and guests on the network argued against vaccination or highlighted extremely rare medical complications in 48 segments, or 37% of the total.
The network’s opinion programming aired 80 coronavirus vaccine segments, 69% of which included claims undermining or downplaying vaccines or immunization efforts. Its “news”-side programming aired 49 segments about vaccines, with 39% of those including claims undermining or downplaying vaccines or immunization efforts.
The show with the most vaccine misinformation was the network’s flagship morning program, Fox & Friends. Including its early morning and weekend counterparts, Fox & Friends aired 44 vaccine segments, 52% of which included claims undermining or downplaying vaccines or immunization efforts. Co-host Brian Kilmeade summed up the program’s resistance to vaccination efforts when he described the Biden administration’s campaign to get more Americans vaccinated as “mind boggling.”
Notably, Fox’s weekday evening opinion shows -- Fox News Primetime, Tucker Carlson Tonight, Hannity, and The Ingraham Angle -- promoted claims undermining and downplaying immunization in all of their coronavirus vaccine segments. The Ingraham Angle in particular did so in 15 segments over the two-week period, with both the host and her guests undermining vaccination rates.
In total, Fox personalities and guests made 216 claims undermining or downplaying vaccines or immunization drives. Out of those, 151 claims came from pundits on the network, which represented 70% of the total. Fox pundits described vaccine efforts as coercive or government overreach 103 times and described vaccines as unnecessary or dangerous 75 times.
Fox hosts Brian Kilmeade of Fox & Friends and Laura Ingraham of The Ingraham Angle were the network’s worst offenders. Kilmeade made 22 claims downplaying or undermining vaccines or immunization, and Ingraham made 18 such claims. Other top offenders were hosts Tucker Carlson (11), Rachel Campos-Duffy (11), Pete Hegseth (11), Ainsley Earhardt (11), and Will Cain (10).
Much of the network’s outrage spawned from misleading coverage of a “door-to-door” vaccination campaign from the Biden administration, which host Jeanine Pirro described as a campaign to ultimately take away Americans’ guns, and reaction to comments from Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, which one contributor likened to medical practices of “the Taliban.”
Fox’s attacks on the vaccination effort are just the latest example of the network undermining public health efforts. And Fox’s hard turn against vaccines is particularly dangerous as vaccination rates in the United States have stalled or slowed -- at publication, fully vaccinated Americans still represent less than half of the total population.
As with its coverage of other public health measures designed to slow the spread of coronavirus, Fox is again leading the charge to discredit accepted science with misinformation and fearmongering.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for any of the terms “coronavirus,” “virus,” “COVID,” “COVID-19,” “COVID 19,” “corona,” “pandemic,” or “outbreak” within close proximity of any variation of either of the terms “vaccine” or “immunization” or either term “vaxx” or “vax” from June 28 through July 11, 2021.
We included segments, which we defined as instances when coronavirus vaccines were the stated topic of discussion or when we found “significant discussion” of coronavirus vaccines in multitopic segments. We defined significant discussion as two or more speakers discussing coronavirus vaccines with one another. We did not include passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker discussed coronavirus vaccines without another speaker engaging with the comment. We also did not include teasers for coronavirus vaccine segments scheduled to air later in the broadcast.
Within coronavirus vaccine segments, we analyzed claims from all speakers. We defined a claim as an uninterrupted block of speech from a single speaker. For host monologues, we defined a claim as an uninterrupted block of speech between read quotes or played clips. We did not analyze claims within read quotes or played clips unless a speaker in the segment positively affirmed any speech within either directly before or after reading the quote or playing the clip.
We categorized claims into two broad categories:
- Vaccines are unnecessary or dangerous.
- Immunization efforts are coercive, represent government overreach, or violate personal freedom or choice.
For the first category, we coded claims meeting any of the following criteria:
- Suggesting that vaccination is not necessary for persons with prior infections or persons who are at low risk of serious illness or complications due to COVID-19.
- Highlighting rare complications as a result of vaccination to suggest that certain cohorts should not be vaccinated.
- Suggesting that the vast majority of Americans do not need to be vaccinated.
- Suggesting that the pandemic is over, and therefore, vaccinations are unnecessary or superfluous.
- Suggesting that risk of complications from vaccination outweigh protections from vaccination.
For the second category, we coded claims meeting any of the following criteria:
- Characterizing vaccination efforts as coercion or highlighting personal choice over public health or emphasizing “medical freedom.”
- Suggesting that parents’ rights should be prioritized over vaccination.
- Suggesting that vaccination efforts are akin to fearmongering.
- Suggesting that reimposing health measures would undermine health expert credibility -- and thus, vaccination efforts -- or confidence in the vaccines.
- Suggesting that health officials cannot be trusted on coronavirus and, thus, cannot be trusted when recommending vaccines.
We coded any claims downplaying or undermining vaccines or immunization efforts that did not meet these specific criteria as “other.”
We split Fox programs into “news” and “opinion” sides. We defined “news” programs as those with anchors, such as Bret Baier or Shannon Bream, while we defined “opinion” programs as those with hosts, such as Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham, at the helm. We used the designations from each anchor or host’s author page on FoxNews.com. We also considered the format of the program; we defined those using a panel format, such as Outnumbered and The Five, as opinion programs.