Tucker Carlson lies about his record of undermining confidence in coronavirus vaccines

Tucker Carlson

Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters

On Tuesday night, Fox News host Tucker Carlson attempted to rewrite his lengthy history of undermining confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines.

Carlson speculated on Monday that public health experts still recommend people who have been vaccinated wear masks and practice social distancing because “maybe it doesn't work and they’re simply not telling you that.” The segment went viral on social media and drew condemnation from Dr. Anthony Fauci during a subsequent CNN appearance, in which he said Carlson’s comment is “just a typical crazy conspiracy theory” and that the clinical trials show “an overwhelming signal of efficacy.” 

On Tuesday, Carlson suggested that his comments were misinterpreted. “For months now, we have been asking a very straightforward question about the coronavirus vaccine,” Carlson said. “Why do people who take it -- and by the way, why do people who have been previously infected and show high levels of antibodies -- have to live under the restrictions that the vaccines were supposed to eliminate?” 

After airing the clip from Fauci’s CNN appearance, Carlson responded:

Wait a second. Who is doubting that vaccines work? For the record, we never for a minute doubted it. We bought all of that stuff completely at face value. We believe in science -- actually kind of probably trust the pharmaceutical companies a little bit too much.

So when they said this stuff works, we never questioned it. We assumed they had detailed studies showing that it does work. We still think that.

The only reason we are asking the question is because the people in charge are acting like it doesn't work. 

And by the way, this, again, is not a trick question. We are not playing word games here, what is the answer? If the coronavirus vaccine prevents you from catching the coronavirus, why are you wearing a mask? Why can't you eat in a restaurant?

And if it doesn't prevent you from catching the coronavirus, why are we taking it in the first place? Both can't be true. So that is the question. It is not a conspiracy theory.

As is typical for the pressing questions Carlson claims his audience should ask about the coronavirus vaccine, this one can be answered by a Google search. These recommendations are somewhat controversial. But Carlson isn’t arguing that the public health officials are making mistakes in their guidance. He is pretending that they are hiding something -- and insinuating that their purported reticence might indicate that the vaccine is ineffective.

Carlson is also trying to give himself cover by lying about what he has been doing since before the vaccines were even approved. After spending months inculcating doubts in his audience, he now claims to have “never for a minute doubted” that the vaccines work and “never questioned” them. It was all apparently a rhetorical trick!

It is true that the bulk of his commentary has involved cowardly anti-anti-anti-vaccine insinuations rather than direct statements about the vaccine’s effectiveness. But the thrust of his commentary has been incredibly clear, a string of denunciations of the effort to get the public vaccinated and insinuations that they may not be safe or effective. Here are a few examples:

  • November 10, 2020: “News yesterday that we may soon have a working coronavirus vaccine. You'd think that news would be greeted with joy on the Democratic side. Democrats believe vaccines are the answer to everything. Shh. Don't ask questions; just take the shot.
  • December 9, 2020: “Obviously nobody trusts the people who run the country anymore. But now, in the middle of this endemic distrust, they are planning to force you to take the coronavirus vaccine. It's so safe, they have to threaten you to take it. If they do that, that could lead to a legitimate crisis.” 
  • December 17, 2020: “How are the rest of us supposed to respond to a marketing campaign like this? Well, nervously. Even if you're strongly supportive of vaccines, and we are, even if you recognize how many millions of lives have been saved over the past 50 years by vaccines, and we do, it all seems a bit much. It feels false, because it is. It's too slick. … Among other things, Twitter is censoring any claim that this vaccine might be used to quote, ‘control populations.’ So, whatever you do, don't say this is social control, because if you do, the richest and most powerful people in the world will act in perfect coordination to shut you down immediately.
  • February 9, 2021: “What about this vaccine? Why are Americans being discouraged from asking simple, straightforward questions about it? Questions like how effective are these drugs? Are they safe? ... If the vaccine was so great, why were all these people lying about it? Honest question. And they were lying. Clearly they were lying. You know that for certain, because from the moment the COVID vaccine arrived, the most powerful people in America worked to make certain that no one could criticize it.”
  • February 22, 2021: “Yeah, it's your body, it's your right. Oh sorry, COVID, actually it's Bill Gates' body now. Bill Gates isn’t god, just a big shareholder in Microsoft. But since COVID, Bill Gates has gained extraordinary powers over what you can and cannot do to your own body. Bill Gates would like you to take the coronavirus vaccine. That’s not a request.”
  • March 11, 2021: “By May, [President Biden] said, there will be enough vaccines for every person in America, ... and if you take that shot, things potentially could get back to normal. No mention at all of the people who might not want to take the shot."
  • March 12, 2021: “What if you don't want to get vaccinated? Not everyone does. Some people have religious objections. Others have concerns about this specific medicine. Others simply don't want it. Do you need a reason to turn down the vaccine? And what happens if you do turn it down? … Quite frankly, you've got the absolute right to make your own personal decisions about your own personal health care. Period. That's in the Constitution.”
  • March 15, 2021: “So all of this should prompt some pretty tough questions for our public health experts in this country, and one of those questions is, how effective is this coronavirus vaccine? How necessary is it to take the vaccine? Don’t dismiss those questions from anti-vaxxers. Don’t kick people off social media for asking them. Answer the questions.”
4 screenshots of Tucker carlson covering coronavirus

Screenshots from Tucker Carlson Tonight on December 17, 2020; February 9, 2020; February 22, 2021, and March 12, 2021.

The vaccine rhetoric of Carlson and his Fox colleagues appears to be having an impact. Just hours after Carlson’s Monday rant, a new poll found that Republicans are significantly more likely to say they will not get vaccinated, confirming the results of other surveys going back months.

It’s unclear why Carlson would feel the need to offer an explanation, even a false one, for his past vaccine commentary, or to say that he believes the vaccines work. But even now, he still won’t encourage his viewers to take the shots. 

It’s a shocking abandonment of moral responsibility, one that Carlson’s entire network has engaged in for more than a year.