Make No Mistake, Vaccine Misinformation Is Still Thriving On Fox News
When Fox News star Sean Hannity pleaded with viewers to take COVID-19 seriously and promoted the vaccine on Monday, heads turned. Has the network that long downplayed the pandemic, questioned the effectiveness of vaccines, and politicized both, finally used its influence on conservative America to disseminate accurate public health information?
It would be nice to think that way, especially since the delta variant of the virus is catching on across the country. But while Hannity's monologue quickly swept liberal corners of the internet, the viral moment likely did more for Fox News' public image than it did for vaccine uptake, which is still much lower among conservatives. In reality, the network is still giving free rein to its top hosts to spread misinformation about vaccines.
The roughly 2.59 million people who see Hannity's show - not just snippets on Twitter - heard his remarks this week in a completely different context. Just before begging his viewers “to take [COVID-19] seriously” and saying he “believes in the science of vaccination,” Hannity railed against universities requiring the vaccine for all students, “regardless of whether they have one having natural immunity ”- wrongly mixing the effects of recovery from the virus with vaccination. Later on on his show, Hannity told the story of a woman who was temporarily paralyzed by another vaccine in 2019 and is now refusing the COVID-19 injection - fueling fears of a highly unlikely side effect.
In the days that followed, Fox News made it clear that it has no real plans to reduce vaccine skepticism. Nowhere is that more evident than on Tucker Carlson's show, the network's biggest audience juggernaut and the country's most-watched cable news show.
On Tuesday night, Carlson went on as usual and spent much of his show casting doubts about the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I rarely attack vaccines or try to convince people not to get them at all. I've never done that before and I won't. However, I am against lies and they tell us that once you are vaccinated you cannot get it or spread it, ”he said. “Here you have vaccinated people who get it and then pass it on to other vaccinated people. Maybe we should start being honest about the limits of medicine, shouldn't we? "
In reality, the vast majority of COVID-19 outbreaks are among the unvaccinated, which is still around half the country. But Carlson plowed ahead, "Odd how many vaccinated people seem to be spreading the virus at this point, so it may not be as simple as unvaccinated bad, vaccinated virtuous," he said, later adding, "It makes you wonder what [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi said that masks and vaccines are actually science, right? "
At the center of Carlson's smear speech was that six fully vaccinated Democratic MPs from Texas tested positive for the virus in the past few days - showing that, like any vaccine in medical history, groundbreaking cases are possible. What Carlson failed to mention Tuesday night is that all cases from these lawmakers are either largely or completely asymptomatic. This is the vaccine that does its job by reducing the viral load - the amount of virus in a person's blood - in an infected person.
Carlson's speech about vaccines on Monday night was similar to how it had been for months. And Laura Ingraham, another top Fox News star, was right with him this week. In the episodes of "The Ingraham Angle" on Monday and Tuesday, she repeatedly referred to the shot as an "experimental vaccine" and "emergency vaccine", while describing the urge to vaccinate as a government conspiracy.
"The more you try to force people, the more distrust grows," said Ingraham. "The more defensive the experts are in answering legitimate questions, the more questions they end up asking."
Perhaps most bizarre, after more than a year in which the coronavirus has been consistently present in the US and killed more than 600,000 Americans, Ingraham told her viewers on Tuesday, "This virus can actually be seasonal."
Vaccine opposition on Fox News' radio waves - which occurs in 60% of all vaccine-based segments, according to a report by Media Matters - continues despite the network's strict COVID-19 policy in place in its office, similar to Hannity's Carlson and Ingraham have weathered it. In order to be able to work in the offices of the network without a mask or social distancing, employees must present a complete vaccination card.
The only Fox News personality who has been consistently positive and accurate about the vaccine is Steve Doocy, co-host of the popular morning show Fox & Friends. On Monday morning he pleaded with viewers: “If you have the chance, get the recording. It'll save your life. ”He's been making similar remarks on the air for months, even though his own co-hosts contradict him.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
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