Fox’s ongoing assault on the coronavirus vaccination campaign is going to kill its viewers
On Thursday morning, a few hours after the world marked the 4 millionth known coronavirus death, Fox News host Brian Kilmeade offered a critique of President Joe Biden’s response to the pandemic.
“The focus of this administration on vaccination is mind-boggling,” he complained.
Over the next few minutes, Kilmeade and his co-hosts provided a bevy of rationales for why their viewers might not want to get the shots, from previous infection to concerns about the vaccines’ emergency use authorization to fears about potential health effects, all dressed up in grievances about the manner in which the government is promoting the inoculations.
What the Fox & Friends crew did not offer their viewers was a shred of encouragement to get vaccinated if they aren’t already. That’s how Fox’s biggest stars and other leading lights of the right-wing press have treated the vaccination campaign for months, even as evidence of the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness, including against new variants of the virus, has poured in.
I’ve written throughout the pandemic about Fox’s unique moral responsibility to its viewers, who trust its right-wing propagandists to the exclusion of credible news sources. The network has failed them time after time, from downplaying the threat the virus posed as it first spread to delegitimizing virtually every policy implemented to stem it. The vaccination effort could have proven to be a turning point. It’s easy to imagine a world in which Fox hosts relentlessly talked up how Donald Trump had made the vaccines possible and how if viewers got vaccinated, the dreaded masks and lockdowns would be gone forever. As I wrote in February:
Fox should treat vaccination with the same urgency it typically devotes to Democratic pseudoscandals or nascent right-wing protest movements. Its hosts should get the shots in their arms -- live on their shows -- as soon as they meet the local criteria for receiving them. The network should air public service announcements featuring Fox stars urging their fans to get vaccinated. And its reporting should regularly reflect that the drugs work and that it is in the interest of viewers to take them. Fox is a propaganda outlet that relentlessly brainwashes its viewers. This is a way the network can use that power for good.
But Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch has described the network as the “loyal opposition” to the Biden administration, and that includes the fight to vaccinate the public against the pandemic.
Occasionally, Fox hosts will acknowledge the value of the shots. For the most part, though, they’ve been all but actively sabotaging the effort to protect Americans -- including their own viewers -- from early, painful deaths. The network’s stars and their guests regularly suggest the vaccines may not work, stoke baseless fears about their safety, use incendiary rhetoric about their deployment, and foment culture war grievances about the vaccination effort.
On Wednesday night, for example, Tucker Carlson gave Turning Point USA grifter extraordinaire Charlie Kirk a platform to launch his organization’s campaign against vaccination requirements on college campuses. “The stories are mounting of young people that have got the vaccine and then had unusual health events afterward,” he told Carlson’s millions of viewers. Kirk described conservative students who don’t want to be vaccinated as victims of “medical apartheid,” a reference to the vicious system of racial segregation that South Africa overthrew in the early 1990s (to the dismay of that era’s American right), while the host compared the situation to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale because “they have full control over your body.”
The following hour of Fox’s prime-time lineup also featured a warning against vaccination. Ingraham Angle guest Dr. Peter McCullough, a cardiologist, fearmongered about the vaccines’ “dangerous mechanism of action” in which they “hijack the body’s cellular machinery,” warning that “unless we really have a compelling case, no one under age 30 should receive any one of these vaccines.” As he spoke, chyrons decried “The Left’s Constant COVID Power Grab” and “Left Intensifies COVID Vaccine Pressure Campaign.”
The situation did not improve on Thursday night.
Tucker suggests the push for COVID vaccination is somehow a slippery slope to eugenics pic.twitter.com/ZFfB1pql2r
— nikki mccann ramírez (@NikkiMcR) July 9, 2021
Fox knows better than this. Rupert Murdoch, the network’s founder and executive chairman, was one of the first people in the world to get vaccinated, and Fox hosts have publicly acknowledged that they have also taken the vaccines (some have been more reticent). But the rhetoric of on-air personalities has diverged from Fox's institutional behavior, as the network put ratings, money, and political gain over the health of its viewers.
And the rhetoric of Fox’s stars seems to be having an impact. Poll after poll finds that Republicans and conservatives are significantly less likely than Democrats to say that they are or plan to get vaccinated. Those findings mirror state-level vaccination rates, which are almost uniformly higher among states that supported Biden in the 2020 election than in states that supported Trump.
This hesitancy, which Fox hosts have done little to combat and much to encourage, will almost inevitably lead to the premature deaths of some members of its audience.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, warned on Thursday that cases and hospitalizations are rising in areas of the U.S. with low rates of vaccination, and that the emerging Delta variant could trigger further increases. But the good news that she offered was that there is a simple solution: the vaccines.
“Preliminary data from several states over the last few months suggest that 99.5% of deaths from COVID-19 in the United States were in unvaccinated people,” she explained.
The simple fact is that as U.S. vaccinations have increased, the daily coronavirus death toll has plummeted. It is the unvaccinated who remain most at risk, particularly of serious illness and death. That is why the administration is so focused on getting the public vaccinated. What’s truly “mind-boggling” is why Fox doesn’t want the same thing.