Fox News host Tucker Carlson has a job in which he can say absolutely anything he wants, so he does: Last month, he misused federal health data to stir up fears that coronavirus vaccines kill in possibly shocking numbers. Then, on Tuesday night, he expressed outrage at findings that White Republican men — the mainstay demographic of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” — might just be a tad hesitant about taking the vaccine.

Carlson called this a new form of segregation — and he did so with a straight face. “You want to watch the NBA playoffs in person? You had better be vaccinated to do that. Otherwise, the New York Knicks will bar you from Madison Square Garden,” he said. “You can still go see a baseball game if you want to. But be warned, you will be sitting in your own roped off section marinating in your shame with the other disobedient bad people. Medical Jim Crow has come to America. If we still had water fountains, the unvaccinated would have separate ones.”

Who is this affecting the most? “Make no mistake,” argued Carlson, “the only people who have not been vaccinated at this point are Trump voters and other dangerous white supremacists, because they’re the only ones evil enough to threaten this nation’s public health.” With that, he cited clips on other news programs discussing the matter. “Why don’t they want it — these white men who by and large were Trumpers?” asked CNN anchor Chris Cuomo.

An effort at debunking followed. Carlson:

You just heard it in very clear terms. No group in America is more likely to turn down the vaccine than quote, “white Republican men.” We’ve heard that so many times that just the other day, we decided to check the numbers because not all the numbers you hear even from the podium at the White House are true.
So here are the real numbers as collected by the U.S. government. Well, look at that, it turns out and we know you’re shocked — they are lying again. In fact, what they are saying is the opposite of the truth. As of two weeks ago, 50 percent of Asian Americans had been vaccinated against covid. That number among white Americans was about 40 percent. Among African Americans, it was 27 percent, among Hispanics, it was 29 percent.

Those are certainly some numbers. What they prove, however, is another question. They don’t break down the vaccination rate of White Republican men, or any other subgroups for that matter. Carlson’s deployment of vaccination statistics is “baloney,” says William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who has appeared on Fox News in the past. “He’s misusing the data to make his point,” says Schaffner.

Hard-and-fast data about the political affiliations of those who’ve been vaccinated aren’t available. But polling shows that the vaccine hesitancy is far more prevalent among Republicans than Democrats. “Partisanship remains the main distinguishing factor among those who want to avoid the vaccine altogether, with 43% of Republicans versus just 5% of Democrats saying this,” reads the summary of an April Monmouth University poll. County-level data also help: A New York Times analysis in April found, “In counties where a majority of residents voted for Mr. Trump in the 2020 election, adult vaccination rates were lower, on average, than in counties where a majority of residents voted for Mr. Biden. The rate was especially low in counties where Mr. Trump dominated, falling below 1 in 4 residents in counties where the former president won by a margin of 50 or more points.”

The reasons vaccination rates in such counties are lagging is a complicated issue, one whose dimensions were laid out in a story on rural Tennessee by Jan Hoffman of the New York Times. “People say that politics isn’t the leading driver of their vaccine attitudes. The most common reason for their apprehension is fear — that the vaccine was developed in haste, that long-term side effects are unknown. Their decisions are also entangled in a web of views about bodily autonomy, science and authority, plus a powerful regional, somewhat romanticized self-image: We don’t like outsiders messing in our business.”

Does Carlson’s own programming figure into the mix of vaccine-hesitancy motivators? We’ll await for a study of that topic. In the meantime, it’s fair to conclude that die-hard viewers of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” wouldn’t be eager to sign themselves up for a shot after the host’s May 5 program. That evening, Carlson hyped numbers from the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a database of self-reported incidents that authorities have cautioned not to attribute to vaccines. Carlson was careless and suggestive anyway: “You put it all together and that is a total of 3,722 deaths. That’s almost 4,000 people who died after getting the covid vaccines. The actual number is almost certainly higher than that, perhaps vastly higher than that.”

Speaking of actual numbers, we’ve asked Fox News for a comment on Carlson’s use of vaccination data. We didn’t hear back on the record, but why would we: It was just another night of White-grievance politics and poorly supported arguments.

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