Fox Delivering Mixed Messages About Getting Vaccinated
The Fox News message machine generally is pretty consistent: Trump = great. Biden = terrible. Election = stolen. Mask mandates = government oppression. But when it comes to whether you should get a coronavirus vaccine the network’s leading personalities are decidedly wishy-washy.
To be sure Tucker Carlson has been consistent in his virulent opposition to vaccinations, even to the point of trying to frighten his 8:00 p.m. audience into not rolling up their sleeves by claiming that thousands of people have died after getting the vaccine and falsely implying that the shot caused their deaths. Carlson steadfastly refuses to disclose whether he’s gotten vaccinated.
During an appearance on CNN Sunday, network medical commentator and George Washington University professor of medicine Jonathan S. Reiner criticized Carlson’s commentary and called him a “saboteur.” “That’s precisely what he’s trying to do: sabotage the vaccination program,” Reiner told The Washington Post.
“I think Carlson’s vaccine commentary does not just have the potential to discourage viewers from getting vaccinated,” he said, “but for reasons clear only to him, they are actually intended to discourage vaccinations.”
But others on the network actually have told their viewers that they should get vaccinated. Fox & Friends co-host Ainsely Earhardt on Monday described being vaccinated as “so much freedom.” In telling viewers and co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmead that she had gotten a shot she said, “I will tell you when I got it, it was just like, ‘Okay, now I know I’m not going to get [the virus]. I’m not going to die from it if I get it.” Doocy chimed in, saying it was a “relief” to be vaccinated and that “it’s the people who have not gotten the shot, which, ultimately, they’re the ones who are in peril.”
That’s quite the turnabout for a morning crew who has spent the better part of the past 12 months downplaying the severity of the virus and the illness it can cause.
Other Fox folks including Bret Baier, Dana Perino and Bill Hemmer have posted photos online of themselves receiving a shot. Harris Faulkner and Brit Hume likewise have urged viewers to get vaccinated.
Sean Hannity is another story. He’s gone back and forth on TV and his radio show about whether he would get the vaccine. Perhaps because he wanted to appear like a righteous tough guy he declared “it’s none of your business” whether he gets the vaccine and said that “I probably would have told people my decision until everyone started demanding that I tell them.” After weeks of such verbal self-sparring Hannity ultimately said he would get a shot.
“Viewers tend to trust those whose programming they regularly consume,” said University of Pennsylvania professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who is an expert on conservative media. “Combine that trust with ongoing exposure and reinforcement in other media channels, and a popular host who creates or reinforces concerns about a COVID vaccine or about COVID vaccination in general can reduce the likelihood of vaccination among devoted viewers.”
Interestingly, the top guy at Fox, Rupert Murdoch, wasn’t at all bashful in December about having been vaccinated in the United Kingdom and said in a statement that he “strongly encourage[s] people around the world to get the vaccine as it becomes available.”