As the Delta coronavirus variant sweeps across the United States, the best hope for a reprieve may be to persuade vaccine holdouts to get the shot. But at least one Fox News host is really, really displeased with such efforts.
The podcast of Fox host Will Cain is not filled with anti-vaccine arguments; Cain says on multiple occasions that he has received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But the Fox & Friends Weekend co-host nevertheless uses the podcast to decry vaccination efforts.
He portrays vaccination advocates as cows “mooing,” suggests that vaccination efforts are born out of “mental illness,” complains that people questioning the effectiveness of the vaccine were portrayed as conspiracy theorists, defends Joe Rogan for suggesting 21-year-olds do not need vaccines, warns that vaccine requirements are creating a new caste system in the United States, and says that COVID-19 numbers are being inflated.
Cain denies that he’s an anti-vaxxer, and, indeed, he doesn’t actually present any arguments for or against vaccines; the only argument he offers is that we don’t know the yearslong effects of the vaccines given how new they are. (When he speaks about vaccination, Cain talks a lot about the possible long-term impacts of the vaccine, but rarely if ever about the long-term effects of COVID-19.) But instead of explaining potential objections to getting vaccinated and grappling with them — or explaining why he chose to get vaccinated — Cain just spends a lot of time bemoaning efforts to persuade others to take the vaccine.
Cain’s style melds two different approaches. The first is the Fox News approach, mining for partisan outrage by offering up examples of right-wing supporters somehow being insulted or victimized by mean liberals, who are inevitably shown to be hypocritical about science. The second is the sports talk approach (Cain came to Fox from ESPN), using bluster and anger to cover up for a lack of substance. Indeed, it’s almost impressive how much time Cain has spent on vaccines without saying anything of substance.
Interestingly, nearly all of Cain’s podcasts are sponsored by Facebook; at one point, he complains that Instagram will censor his podcast because of his vaccine comments moments before a Facebook ad plays. Most if not all of the ads mention Facebook’s willingness to update the 1996 Telecommunications Act and other regulations. Some of the ads include mention of Facebook’s efforts to fight misinformation. (As my colleagues have noted for months, Facebook is rife with anti-vaccine content despite promises that executives have made.)
Cain works hard, when talking about vaccines, to distance himself from the label of “anti-vax,” and that much is true, to a certain extent. But what Cain does is the moral equivalent: While anti-vaccine advocates lie to discourage Americans from taking life-saving medicine, Cain instead bellows at people who are encouraging the vaccines, treating vaccine advocates as cartoonish partisans; if someone doesn’t fit in that box to Cain, they are not mentioned at all.
We can all agree that sometimes people trying to help do only make things worse, but even if Cain is correct in some cases about overreach of vaccine advocates (and that’s debatable), it’s hard to see what he actually brings to the table himself. A condescension-filled podcast complaining about condescension doesn’t actually make anything any better -- he’s just trying to weaponize the existing vaccine hesitancy for his own personal gain, all while admitting that he’s been vaccinated. A perfect fit for Fox News, really.
Here’s a look at Cain’s approach to vaccines on his podcast (launched in April) and how it has gotten progressively worse as time has gone on:
- On April 16, after complaining about a security guard who asked him to wear a mask indoors, Cain talked about receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while berating the federal government for temporarily pausing that vaccine while a rare blood clotting issue was investigated.
- On April 30, Cain extensively defended podcaster Joe Rogan for claiming that a healthy 21-year-old would not need to get vaccinated. (Many, many experts have said that Rogan was wrong, and Rogan later clarified his position.) But Cain actually didn’t defend Rogan on the specifics -- the most he even offered was some pablum about Rogan “being an independent thinker.” Rather, Cain said that political leaders who wore masks while being vaccinated were the real anti-vaxxers and that there was no reason to do so. While reasonable people can certainly disagree on President Joe Biden’s desire to keep modeling good masking behavior after being vaccinated, Cain pretends that that rationale simply does not exist and suggests that Biden and others had no reason at all. Cain also talks in the episode about Dr. Anthony Fauci being “the Zeus of our religion of science gods” and says Biden urging people to get vaccinations is “beginning to sound less like a request, less like persuasion, less like advice, and more like an order.”
- On May 3, immediately after playing an ad from Facebook, Cain went on a rant downplaying the seriousness of COVID-19, saying that it wasn’t that deadly even before vaccines and that given the numbers of vaccinated Americans at the time, it was “neurosis” for people to walk around with “face diapers.”
- On May 7, Cain criticized National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins for saying that he wanted to put the pandemic behind us; to Cain, putting the pandemic “behind us” meant that Collins did not care about the fate of individual children. Cain also mocked an Instagram commenter who expressed concern for overwhelming hospitals with COVID-19 cases before ultimately dismissing the concern, and he praised Tucker Carlson’s “questions” about the vaccine and concluded that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had abandoned the process of science entirely and could no longer be trusted at all regarding “the long-term ramifications for an experimental emergency-use drug.”
- On May 14, Cain again blamed Biden for vaccine hesitancy based on his decision to wear a mask after being vaccinated. He then complained at length about a satirical public service announcement on Jimmy Kimmel’s show and suggested it was too mean to people refusing to get the vaccine. He also complained about the Ohio lottery bribing people to get the vaccine before suggesting that the poor track record of Big Pharma companies justifies anti-vaccine attitudes (while denying that he is anti-vaccine for suggesting that). Cain then compared the COVID-19 vaccines to the polio vaccine, using initial problems with the latter to suggest issues with the former. Throughout the vaccine portion of this podcast, Cain complained about nontraditional efforts to get people vaccinated while never engaging with the myriad good-faith efforts. His sentiment about vaccines was entirely negative.
- On May 17, Cain fearmongered about potential vaccine requirements, saying that any vaccine requirements or vaccine passports would be fascist, even suggesting in an apparent Nazi analogy that people may require “armbands that show who is and who is not vaccinated.”
- On May 24, Cain complained that Major League Baseball stadiums in New York City and San Francisco had vaccinated and unvaccinated sections, likening them to segregation, and claimed that “elites” had created a new “caste system.”
- On May 28, Cain expressed his disappointment that some parents were willing to get their children vaccinated, pushing what by now had become a familiar refrain that they were just going along with the crowd and hadn’t really thought about the issue.
- On May 31, Cain cited ongoing disagreements about the origins of COVID-19 to claim that the CDC was in the pocket of the Chinese Community Party and could not be trusted with vaccine recommendations or for anything about “this or any other pandemic.”
- The vaccination portion of the June 4 episode of his podcast began with a perfect example of Cain’s logic: “The more that academics or journalists or politicians put topics off-limits, the more you realize you're closer to the truth. … Once you realize you're dealing with a liar, once you realize the truth is being hidden, what other areas are off-limits? What else is the liar hiding from you?” This led to more complaints that people were being offered hamburgers and donuts to get the vaccine while people who “question the safety or effectiveness” of the vaccine are labeled conspiracy theorists.
- Later in the June 4 episode, Cain fantasized about debating actor Matthew McConaughey, saying he wouldn’t let McConaughey get away with echoing the CDC’s “platitudes.”
- On the June 7 podcast, Cain declared that “if the emperor has no clothes, the vaccination bullies and the social media tyrants have no spine.” Then he defended Buffalo Bills receiver Cole Beasley’s recent anti-vaccination rant, saying sports journalists criticizing Beasley are just victims of groupthink and Beasley alone is thinking for himself. (During this anti-groupthink screed, Cain had no problem with telling sports journalists to spend more time echoing the thoughts of people in their audience.) Immediately after this lengthy rant, an ad ran for Facebook.
- On June 28, Cain returned to vaccines, bemoaning a column about the College World Series and vaccinations by USA Today’s Dan Wolken and saying that people calling for vaccinations are “mini Pol Pots” (in reference to the Cambodian dictator responsible for the deaths of between 1.2 million and 2.8 million people).
- On July 16, Cain claimed that CNN was talking about vaccinations and the virus to scare people and to get “more ratings.”
- On July 19, Cain said that a societal “mental illness” was responsible for the push of vaccinations in the face of the Delta variant. He also said power and identity were behind the rush to vaccinate before concluding that “they’re inflating the numbers. They’re inflating the rhetoric. They’re inflating the fears and the risks” because “they’ve slipped in some form of mental illness.”
- On July 23, Cain complained that sports talk radio in Dallas portrayed vaccines as necessary. He also mocked the notion that he or Fox News misinformed anyone about the vaccine, before saying that criticism of Fox was really criticism of his podcast audience. He repeated again that he was vaccinated, but went further than he previously had gone in claiming that “we're starting to see more and more breakthrough cases and certainly helps on the severity of infections.” At least six times, Cain referred to people advocating for vaccines as cows “mooing.” Cain said it is time to end all public health guidelines for the pandemic and to “let her rip,” saying that the unvaccinated person “understands the risk-reward they are taking.” Aside from an occasional nod to protecting the vulnerable, Cain never really grappled with the fact that the unvaccinated pose a risk to the immunocompromised.
- On July 26, Cain minimized the point of the vaccination drive, saying, “We've moved so far from don't overwhelm the hospitals to the point where we are today, get a needle in everyone's arm to ensure no one ever gets sick.” He also complained about vaccine protocols in Europe and a potential push to vaccinate children in the United States.