Fox’s fabricated vaccine passport attack on Democrats

A new front in the network's coronavirus culture war

Fox news logo with a syringe

Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters

Fox News is running with a fabricated, dystopian Democratic Party position on documents showing proof of vaccination against the novel coronavirus -- often described as “vaccine passports” -- and is using it as a cudgel to attack the party’s position on voter identification laws.

“Privacy concerns raised over the push for vaccine passports as progressives are now being accused of a double standard,” Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade said at the top of a Wednesday segment. 

Kilmeade read a statement from House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), who told Fox News, “Considering that Democrats want to require vaccine IDs for people to conduct their basic daily lives, they now have zero grounds to object to voter ID laws. If under Democratic logic, you should need an ID to enter even a grocery store, surely there wouldn’t be an objection to showing an ID to legally vote.” 

The Fox co-host then introduced British columnist Douglas Murray and adopted Scalise’s talking point, asking him, “Do you see the hypocrisy there as we debate a vaccine mandate?” Murray replied, “Yeah, it’s stunning,” before denouncing Democrats’ “hullabaloo about the voter restriction” recently passed by Georgia Republicans that added an ID requirement for absentee ballots.

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Citation From the March 31, 2021, edition of Fox & Friends.

But at no point in the segment did anyone cite even a single Democrat who actually supports needing “to carry vaccine passports to do the most basic and mundane things in our daily lives,” as Murray put it.  The closest they came was an ocean away -- Murray cited British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speculation that some pub owners may require patrons to show a vaccine passport before entering. That lack of evidence is telling.

With vaccine passport discussions at an early stage, Republicans and GOP propagandists at Fox and elsewhere in the right-wing media have simply made up the most repressive viewpoint possible and attributed it to the Democratic Party at large as they try to open up a new front in their partisan pandemic culture war. 

What’s actually happening is that the Biden administration is helping the private sector develop standards for vaccination verification documents that private companies could then require of their patrons. The administration has bent over backward to say that neither the vaccine nor the vaccine credentials will be federally mandated and that the federal government will not control a database of vaccination records. 

Since vaccine passports are in the early stages of development, it is unclear which venues will require proof of the coronavirus vaccination; much of the discussion has revolved around their use for travel and large events, not small businesses. Notably, documentation of vaccination for other illnesses is already necessary for some international travel and for school. It’s also possible that venues would allow patrons without vaccination credentials to enter wearing face masks. 

The lack of firm answers about which venues will require vaccine credentials and under what circumstances have created a vacuum. Republicans have dishonestly filled that vacuum, dreaming up the most restrictive scenario possible -- vaccine passports necessary to go to any store -- and are claiming that Democrats support it.

Right-wing media personalities have chimed in with apocalyptic rhetoric, claiming that proponents of vaccine passports are “trying to destroy liberal democracy and replace it with totalitarian communism” and drawing comparisons to the Holocaust. The faulty comparison of the supposed support for widespread vaccine passport requirements to the Democratic position on voting rights has moved through the far-right food chain, from commentators like Charlie Kirk and Donald Trump Jr., to members of Congress and finally to Fox, as befitting its role as a GOP propaganda outlet

Fox already helped to turn masks and social distancing into culture war issues. Vaccine passports are simply the next frontier.