Despite Fox News’ public-relations campaign to rebrand its poor vaccine coverage, its reporting has worsened: In a six-week period from June 28 through August 8, Media Matters found that nearly 60% of the network’s vaccine segments included claims undermining or downplaying vaccinations.
The new findings represent a slight increase over our previous study, which demonstrated that 57% of Fox News’ coronavirus vaccine segments from June 28 through July 11 included statements that undercut immunization efforts.
In the two weeks following that prior study period, from July 12 through 25 (a period which coincided with Fox PR's disingenuous efforts to whitewash its terrible vaccine coverage), we observed a minor drop in vaccine segments including negative claims, from 57% to 53%; however, in the next two weeks, July 26 through August 8, the percentage including such statements ramped up to 63% of all vaccine segments.
Fox’s continued undermining of immunization efforts is particularly harmful given the nationwide surge in cases and deaths among those who have not received a COVID-19 vaccination. While agencies have detected some breakthrough cases, the vaccines have been extremely successful at significantly reducing deaths and hospitalizations from the contagious delta variant; however, ICUs have once again been pushed to their limits as hospital beds fill up with unvaccinated individuals.
Throughout the pandemic, Fox has undermined public health efforts to protect Americans from COVID-19. Despite a few highly publicized endorsements of vaccines from a handful of Fox hosts (some of which were quickly taken back), the network’s discussion of vaccines has continually negatively framed any effort to encourage immunization as coercive, unnecessary, dangerous, or politically motivated.
- In a six-week period from June 28 through August 8, Fox aired 628 coronavirus vaccine segments with 59% of those including claims undercutting immunization.
- Overall, Fox personalities and guests voiced 840 claims undermining or downplaying the immunization effort.
- Forty-seven percent of vaccine segments included claims suggesting that immunization efforts were coercive, represented government overreach, or violated personal freedom or choice.
- Thirty-three percent of segments included claims suggesting that vaccination was unnecessary or dangerous.
- Ten percent of segments included claims politicizing immunization efforts as a cynical ploy by Democrats to win elections or to take undue credit for the vaccine rollout.
- Fox & Friends, including its early morning and weekend editions, comprised the most vaccine segments with 151; of those, 58% included claims undermining vaccinations.
- Fox’s weekday evening opinion programming, airing from 7 p.m. through 11 p.m., accounted for 130 segments; of those, 92% included claims undermining vaccination. (The Ingraham Angle aired negative claims in 98% of its vaccine segments, Hannity was second with 91%, and Tucker Carlson Tonight and Fox News Primetime followed with 90% and 89%, respectively.)
- Particularly egregious were Fox hosts Tucker Carlson and Brian Kilmeade, who each made 53 claims undercutting vaccines. Following them was frequent Fox guest Dr. Marty Makary, who made 45 claims. Rounding out the top five were hosts Laura Ingraham and Pete Hegseth with 41 claims each.
Over a six-week period, 59% of Fox’s vaccine segments included claims that undermined or downplayed immunization efforts
Negative claims about the vaccine drive ramped up slightly in the final weeks of the study: In the last two weeks together, from July 26 to August 8, 63% of Fox’s vaccine segments included claims undercutting immunization.
Overall, during the six-week period from June 28 to August 8, Fox described immunization efforts as coercive or government overreach or framed them with a false dichotomy of “personal choice” against “medical freedom” in 298 segments, or 47%. Personalities and guests on the network argued against vaccination or highlighted extremely rare medical complications in 210 segments, or 33%. Finally, Fox aired claims suggesting that vaccination efforts were a cynical political ploy by Democrats or a Democratic attempt to steal credit for the vaccine rollout in 65 segments, or 10%.
The network’s opinion programming aired 349 vaccine segments during this time period. Of those, 74% included claims undermining or downplaying immunization efforts. Fox’s “news” shows aired 279 such segments with 39% of those undercutting vaccines.
Fox & Friends continued to lead the network in total vaccine segments. Including its early morning and weekend editions, the show aired 151 such segments, and 58% of those included claims undercutting immunization. Together, the network’s evening opinion shows -- Fox News Primetime, Tucker Carlson Tonight, Hannity, and The Ingraham Angle -- aired 130 such segments, and 92% of those included negative claims.
The Ingraham Angle aired only a single segment out of 40 that did not include claims undermining vaccination, which means 98% of the show’s vaccine segments included negative claims. Hannity followed with 91%, then Tucker Carlson Tonight (90%), and lastly, Fox News Primetime (89%).
In all, Fox personalities and guests voiced 840 negative claims in coronavirus vaccine segments in the period studied. They argued that immunization efforts were coercive or violated freedom or choice 554 times (66% of all claims), that vaccines were dangerous or unnecessary 375 times (45%), and that Democratic efforts to vaccinate the populace were a cynical political ploy 95 times (11%).
Fox hosts Tucker Carlson and Brian Kilmeade made the most claims undercutting vaccination in the six-week period: 53 each. Following them was frequent Fox guest Dr. Marty Makary, from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who made 45 claims. Rounding out the top five were hosts Laura Ingraham and Pete Hegseth with 41 each.
Ingraham’s exchange with Drs. Jay Bhattacharya and Peter McCullough on the July 13 edition of her show illustrated these types of claims on the network when she downplayed the use of vaccines for those who’ve recovered from prior COVID-19 infections in favor of “natural immunity.” In a subsequent interview with McCullough on July 29, both Ingraham and her guest suggested that vaccination would not draw the pandemic to an end; McCullough stated, “It's clear we can't vaccinate our way out of this.” Less than two weeks later, Ingraham would argue against mask use and vaccination requirements.
On August 9, Carlson emphasized the importance of personal choice over public health concerns in an interview with Ingraham and then likened immunization requirements to forced sterilization and lobotomies. On his July 16 show, Carlson hosted professional coronavirus “contrarian” Alex Berenson, who falsely claimed that the vaccines were “declining in effectiveness very quickly.” Kilmeade echoed that sentiment on the July 20 edition of Fox & Friends as did Ingraham on the July 19 edition of her show.
The Federalist co-founder Ben Domenech was guest hosting the August 5 edition of Fox News Primetime when he gave space for conservative commentator Liz Wheeler to absurdly claim that progressives have used COVID-19 to promote “Marxism” through “the destruction of the family” and “the violation of religious liberty.” Guest hosting the same program on July 27, Fox’s Tammy Bruce suggested that she would give back her own vaccination if she could.
We could go on: Media Matters has documented instance after instance of Fox undermining or downplaying vaccines. These arguments from the network’s personalities and guests will only serve to increase resistance to public health measures and discourage vaccination for a significant portion of already hesitant Americans at a time when health officials and medical experts have been recommending going back to regular mask use and schoolchildren ready themselves for a return to in-person learning this fall.
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 August 8, 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 three broad categories:
- Vaccines are unnecessary or dangerous.
- Immunization efforts are coercive, represent government overreach, or violate personal freedom or choice.
- Vaccination efforts are a cynical political ploy by Democrats.
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 any Americans who could be vaccinated 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.
- Suggesting that vaccines do not offer sufficient protection.
- Describing the vaccines as “experimental.”
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.
- Suggesting that scientific studies on vaccinations are untrustworthy, manipulated, or otherwise false.
For the third category, we coded claims meeting any of the following criteria:
- Suggesting that the Biden administration or current government health officials are obscuring Operation Warp Speed or Trump administration contributions to vaccinations.
- Suggesting that advocating for vaccination is a political ploy by Democrats.
- Suggesting that certain demographics are less likely to get vaccinated because of personal politics or political considerations.
Percentages do not always add up to 100% because a single claim could include arguments that fit more than one category.
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.