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Opinion Tucker Carlson exposes his own vaccine hypocrisy

Fox News host Tucker Carlson in Washington on March 29, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Fox News host Tucker Carlson made news in a speaking engagement in San Marcos, Calif., where he suggested that he hadn’t been vaccinated. On the topic of the second booster shot, Carlson quipped to the crowd at Awaken Church, “I skipped the first three, I’m not getting that one either.

The crowd “erupted in applause,” reported the Voice of San Diego. Like the solid demagogue that he is, Carlson knows his audience: Awaken Church, an evangelical congregation, made a lot of news during the pandemic for resisting covid health restrictions.

Perhaps Carlson was just waiting for the right audience to talk about his vaccination habits. Last year, then-New York Times media columnist Ben Smith asked Carlson whether he’d gotten the shot. “When was the last time you had sex with your wife and in what position? We can trade intimate details,” Carlson replied.

For a Time magazine profile, Charlotte Alter tried again. It went like this:

“Because I’m a polite person, I’m not going to ask you any supervulgar personal questions like that.”
I told him he was welcome to ask me whatever he wanted.
“That’s like saying, ‘Do you have HIV?’” he said. “How about ‘None of your business’?” He broke into a cackle, like a hyena let loose in Brooks Brothers. “I mean, are you serious? What’s your favorite sexual position and when did you last engage in it?”

Consider the turnabout here: Carlson insisted on more than one occasion that disclosing vaccination status was tantamount to disclosing details about your sex life — and yet there he was, committing that very offense at an evangelical church.

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Nothing in the world of Tucker Carlson makes sense, because it doesn’t have to.

There was never any credibility to Carlson’s supposed offense at fielding questions about his vaccination status. Untold numbers of his fellow citizens, after all, have treated vaccinations as quasi-public events, tweeting and Instagramming their shots. Many of those who oppose the vaccines, likewise, have felt empowered to make their case in public.

Over the past two years, Carlson has feasted on covid as a prime-time calling card, flyspecking national and municipal responses to the pandemic. Along the way, he has provided support to the anti-vax movement. In May 2021, for instance, Carlson hijacked federal data to promote fear about people dying after taking a vaccine. He also claimed, baselessly, that there were “unresolved concerns about their long term effects on some people including their effects on female fertility.” The truth here is that vaccination does not reduce the chance of conception, though covid infection in males could reduce their fertility. As someone who obsesses over falling sperm counts, Carlson might be expected to seize upon that finding.

But no. Remember — there’s no worldview guiding Carlson’s rantings on any subject, be it covid or racism or testosterone. Carlson himself confessed as much at a 2019 conference: “The temptation in my politics — and my politics are evolving, although I don’t even have politics, I just have reactions to things, as you can tell.”

Correct. He reacted to conservative distrust of the vaccines by hyping and deepening that distrust. He reacted to questions from mainstream media reps — those soulless elites! — by stiffing them with preposterous attitude. And he responded to the crowd at Awaken by giving them a helping of anti-establishment covid ideology.

Carlson’s repeated attacks on the vaccines prompted a guessing game among Fox News watchers: Did the host put his money where his mouth was and spurn the vaccines? Or was he playing a cynical game in which he promoted doubt about them on the air while receiving the shots for his own protection?

“Tucker Carlson, tell the American people if you have been double vaccinated and boosted, just come clean,” said CNN’s Jim Acosta in January. “Tell everybody if you have been boosted, we know the truth, we know you have been. But just tell us, tell everybody the truth, it is all we ask.” Rolling Stone’s Jack Crosbie wrote, “The hypocrisy behind all of this is that Tucker Carlson is almost certainly vaccinated.”

Usually, those analysts would now have to get busy writing corrections. Doing so, however, would require believing Tucker Carlson. As he said last year, “I lie.”