Fox News keeps turning vaccine resisters into culture war heroes

The network has hosted dozens of people who refuse to get shots in the face of vaccine mandates

Fox vaccines

Citation Andrea Austria / Media Matters

Fox News has provided a friendly platform to dozens of people who refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccine in recent months. The network’s propagandists often portray those guests as heroes fighting for freedom against “authoritarian” mandates -- even though Fox itself has a vaccine requirement for employees.

Twenty-eight individuals who said they were defying COVID-19 vaccine mandates by  rejecting vaccination appeared a total of 30 times on Fox’s weekday programs from August 2 through October 5, according to a Media Matters review. The tally includes nine appearances by nurses, six by law enforcement officers, five by teachers, and two by members of the U.S. military. These individuals were often featured on Fox’s most-watched shows, including Fox & Friends (13 such appearances), The Ingraham Angle (8), and Tucker Carlson Tonight (4).

Some told Fox’s hosts that they had quit or been fired from their jobs rather than take the required shots. Others were seeking exemptions or preparing to lose their employment. 

Fox’s hand-picked guests are outliers. Employees are overwhelmingly responding to vaccine mandates by getting vaccinated rather than quitting their jobs or getting fired, which is undoubtedly saving lives. It’s not surprising that most Americans would prefer to take vaccines that are free, safe, and remarkably effective at preventing serious cases of a viral disease that has killed more than 700,000 Americans rather than seeking new employment. But that’s not what Fox’s viewers are hearing. 

Fox has ignored its moral responsibility to keep its viewers informed (and thus healthy) since the COVID-19 pandemic began, instead treating it primarily as a new culture war issue to exploit for political and financial gain. The emergence of vaccines made no difference. Rather than consistently encouraging viewers to take them, Fox hosts regularly undermined the vaccination campaign, doing so on 181 of 183 days from April 1 through September 30. The network paced the right’s broader anti-vax sabotage effort, which has been devastatingly effective in limiting vaccine uptake among Republicans and thus ensuring higher death tolls among those populations. 

Over the summer, as vaccinations leveled off in part due to that Republican hesitance, officials began implementing vaccination requirements, particularly for government and health care workers. In September, President Joe Biden announced a plan for federal regulators to compel businesses with more than 100 employees to require their employees to either be vaccinated against or regularly tested for COVID-19.

This presented yet another off-ramp for Fox’s propagandists, who could have pivoted to telling their viewers that such vaccine mandates are commonplace and encouraging them to take the vaccines rather than risking their jobs (and lives). Instead, they branded vaccine mandates as “immoral,” “authoritarian,” and a “war” on both “freedom” and “millions of Americans” who are not vaccinated. They warned that the unvaccinated would now be subjected to “vaccine apartheid” and should “fight back” by purchasing fake vaccination cards to foil the mandates and engage in “civil disobedience” against the “tyrants” implementing them. 

And they found new culture war heroes who risked or quit their jobs rather than taking the shot and put them on the air.

Series of Fox interviews with people refusing the vaccine

In August, for example, network star Tucker Carlson touted the “brave souls” who refuse to “go along” with the “lunacy” of vaccine mandates, particularly health care workers, who he claimed must know more than those encouraging them to get shots. He then brought on one such person, a nurse from North Carolina who chose to leave her job rather than follow its requirement that she be vaccinated.

“What do you know that the rest of us don't know?” Carlson asked. “No one can claim that you're uninformed or you don't believe in science.” The former nurse responded by disputing the safety of the drug, saying that “we don't know enough about this vaccine” because “it is experimental,” and thus may not be “safe.” 

“I think you've made an entirely fair decision. It's your decision, and I’m grateful that you're willing to talk about it tonight in public,” Carlson said as he concluded the interview, adding that he hoped “many more” would come on his show to tell similar stories.

Similarly, a few weeks later, the network’s insipid morning show Fox & Friends hosted John Knox, the leader of Firefighters 4 Freedom, which co-host Ainsely Earhardt described as “an effort to fight for the right to choose whether or not they should get the shot.”

“It's not necessarily whether I want to get vaccinated or not. The point that we’re bringing to the table here is that we should have a choice in the matter,” Knox told her. “We feel that we have the right to have informed consent and that we should be able to make the decision what we do with our bodies, not be told what we need to do.”

And later in September, primetime host Sean Hannity hosted Lt. Col. Paul Douglas Hague, who resigned from the U.S. Army rather than comply with its requirement to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Hannity praised Hague as a “principled” hero who had been “pushed into a corner” by the military mandate.

Hague explained that he had willingly taken all the other vaccines the military requires, but the COVID-19 vaccine is somehow different for reasons he did not articulate. “This is really about the freedom of the American people,” he said. “The right to choose your own medical procedures. The right to decide, you know, what’s gonna be injected into your body and what’s not. That’s a natural human right that we can’t take away from people. And I swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution which affords those rights to the Americans.”

These segments have continued, even as the evidence of the mandates’ effectiveness has continued to mount. On Monday, for instance, The New York Times reported that “roughly 43,000” doses had been administered to employees in New York City’s public schools since the late August announcement that they would be required. About 96 percent of teachers were at least partially vaccinated, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

But that night, Fox’s Laura Ingraham hosted repeat guest Michael Kane, the founder of Teachers for Choice, to discuss how unvaccinated New York City teachers like him “went from being hometown heroes to villains” and had been barred from the classroom. The segment featured the chyron, “Teachers Fight Back On Vaccines.”

Kane complained that “There has never been a vaccine requirement to teach New York City public schools” and argued that COVID-19 vaccines “do not provide sterilizing immunity.” He warned that the vaccination campaign had become “far more political” than “about science.”

The Fox hosts providing these people with access to their viewers work for a company that has a rigorous vaccination mandate, and are likely vaccinated themselves. None of them are publicly denouncing Fox for its “authoritarian” requirement that they either get vaccinated or submit to regular testing, nor are they quitting their jobs to protest the purported tyranny. 

They are hypocrites and cowards who are happy to profit while loyal viewers who take their commentary seriously sicken and die. And they are in that position because Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch are willing to trade moral abomination for ratings victories every chance they get.