Fox's anti-vaccine culture war heroes, by the numbers
Guests who defied vaccine mandates appeared on the network at least 59 times over six months
Fox News hosted dozens of individuals who refuse to take COVID-19 vaccines over the last six months, often lionizing them for being willing to “fight back” against purportedly tyrannical mandates. That promotion is receiving new scrutiny after one such guest, former Washington state trooper Robert LaMay, died from the virus last week.
Fox is killing its viewers by sabotaging the campaign to vaccinate Americans against COVID-19. The network’s biggest stars often falsely portray the shots – which dramatically reduce the chances of death from a virus that has killed nearly 900,000 Americans – as ineffective and dangerous, and attacks on efforts to get people vaccinated are a constant on the network’s programming. This coverage has helped drive a major partisan split in vaccinations and deaths – but as a Fox insider explained, it is also “great for ratings.”
The right-wing propaganda network has tried to create anti-vaccine culture war heroes as part of this morally repugnant offensive.
At least 54 people who said they were defying COVID-19 vaccine mandates by rejecting vaccination appeared a total of 59 times on Fox’s weekday programs from August 1 through January 31, according to a Media Matters review.
That tally includes 21 appearances by medical personnel – 14 by nurses, 3 by doctors, and 4 by other health care workers. Fox’s decision to grant them a platform carries additional weight with Fox’s audience because, as star host Tucker Carlson stressed during an interview with a nurse, the fact that they “work in science” and have “decided not to take the vaccine” suggests that they “know” something “that the rest of us don't know.”
Fox also featured 8 appearances by students, 7 by law enforcement officers, and 6 by teachers. Pilots, firefighters, and members of the military also discussed their refusal to get vaccinated on the network.
These individuals were often featured on Fox’s most-watched shows. Fox & Friends hosted the most appearances, with 28, followed by The Ingraham Angle with 12 and Tucker Carlson Tonight with 7.
On the air, Fox’s star hosts praise these vaccine resisters as “brave souls” who were “principled” enough to “fight back” after being “pushed into a corner” by the “unbelievable” “lunacy” of mandates, and as signs of the awakening of a “sleeping giant” against such policies.
But behind the scenes, the hosts are meekly complying with Fox’s own stringent mandate. More than 90% of full-time Fox Corp. employees are vaccinated, and in September, the company voluntarily instituted a daily testing requirement for its unvaccinated in-person workers (that policy was superseded in December by New York City’s vaccine mandate, which does not allow a testing option).
No Fox hosts have publicly denounced their own network’s policy or said that they would quit rather than follow it. In fact, when Carlson was asked directly whether Fox was “denying the civil liberties of its employees,” he did not give a straight answer, saying that he was “just an employee."
Most Americans are more like Fox’s hosts than its guests – they responded to vaccine mandates by getting vaccinated rather than quitting their jobs or getting fired, which undoubtedly saved lives. But by minting anti-mandate culture war heroes, Fox’s coverage encourages its viewers to defy such requirements, and provides an incentive for them to do so: If they quit instead, they, too, can get a fawning interview with their favorite network host.
But such fame is fleeting, and once those guests have served the network’s purpose by bolstering its narrative, they become disposable.
LaMay’s case is instructive. In October, the 22-year veteran of the Washington State Patrol quit his job rather than get vaccinated and became a right-wing sensation after a talk radio host circulated video of his rant against the governor’s mandate. Fox hosts praised him as a “fantastic police officer” and a “celebrity” during two appearances, and he told them with evident enthusiasm that he had spent hours doing radio interviews and working with his children to respond to his social media contacts.
“We really appreciate your voice and best of luck to you,” Fox prime-time host Laura Ingraham said as she concluded her interview with him.
But when LaMay died on Friday after losing a battle with COVID-19 – leaving behind a widow and four children – his voice was no longer important. Fox has not mentioned his passing as of posting. The network moved on, hosting new anti-vaccine culture war heroes this week.