That’s a bit short of “go get vaccinated,” sure, but it’s at least a step in the direction that many critics have been hoping to push the network. Polling repeatedly shows that Republicans are more likely to express opposition to being vaccinated against the virus, and Fox News is the most popular network among Republican viewers.
While it’s tricky to determine whether Fox’s coverage is reflecting or driving its viewership, there’s clearly a correlation between viewership and skepticism. And since the vaccine rollout began in earnest, the default position of the network’s heavily watched prime-time shows has been to sow doubt.
Despite Hannity’s thumbs up, that remained the default position of the network on Monday night. Those who watched from 8 p.m. until 11 p.m. would have been left with little question about the message they were meant to take away: Maybe the vaccines do some good, but you should question how effective they are and you should think that government experts are lying to you about them. An endorsement drowned under a deluge of howevers is not an endorsement at all.
Hannity made his remarks while also disparaging mandates for vaccination. After all, “the Cleveland Clinic says you don’t need the vaccine if you have natural immunity,” he said. “That means, in other words, you don’t need any vaccine. Are we trusting the science or are we just going by whatever they think at any given moment?”
It is true that a relatively small study from the Cleveland Clinic (not yet peer-reviewed) indicated a significant level of protection for those who have already had covid. The takeaway from the study was not that those who have been infected should not get vaccinated — especially since the level of protection provided by prior infections can vary widely — but, in places where vaccine supplies were limited, they should go first to those who have not been infected. Other research, in fact, points to the utility of giving a one-dose booster of the vaccine to people who were previously infected.
But this is how it works: One point of evidence that can be used to undercut the need for vaccines is touted repeatedly. Hannity also mentioned the Cleveland Clinic study on his radio show Monday, again using it as evidence that maybe the push for vaccinations was overstated. He also then downplayed the danger of the virus by claiming that “hydroxychloroquine mitigated some of the symptoms” of covid-19 (about that) and boasting about having long endorsed the treatment invermectin (about that).
More to the point, those watching Hannity’s endorsement of vaccines would have needed to immediately turn off their televisions avoid seeing him quickly amplify concerns about the process.
“I believe in the science of vaccination,” Hannity said — before adding, “There are rare exceptions.” One such exception was of a young woman who had an adverse reaction to a vaccine in 2019 and has now been advised against getting a coronavirus vaccine. That means that she can’t attend college in Hawaii, where vaccines are mandated.
This is, of course, a frustrating situation, but the thrust of Hannity’s segment, including the participation of Nicole Saphier, was on the dramatic negative effects that the young woman experienced following her 2019 vaccination. Saphier, a Fox News regular who has argued for pausing widespread vaccinations of young people, warned that the syndrome experienced by the young woman could “leave someone quadriplegic, can leave him on a breathing machine, and it can actually be fatal.”
Nothing from Saphier, a doctor, about how incredibly rare such a response might be. Yet Hannity’s program nonetheless included the most responsible assessments of the vaccine of any of the Fox lineup on Monday night.
He was preceded, as always, by Tucker Carlson, whose relentless shtick is sowing doubt and casting his perceived opponents as endlessly cynical and duplicitous. (Psychologists have a term for this.)
First, Carlson mocked Texas legislators who flew to Washington, D.C., to prevent the state from passing new voting restrictions. They had traveled without masks, since all of them were vaccinated, but five legislators nonetheless contracted the virus at some point. It’s not clear where that occurred, but it’s also not entirely surprising. Vaccines are a bit like seat belts and air bags; they can’t protect you from every form of harm, but they dramatically decrease the likelihood of serious injury. To Carlson, though, this was a chance to mock one of the legislators as hypocritical for calling for more mask-wearing.
Carlson then turned his attention to a statement made by the United Kingdom’s top health official, Patrick Vallance. At a news conference, he claimed that 60 percent of those hospitalized with covid in the country had been fully vaccinated, a claim he later corrected; the actual figure was that 60 percent were unvaccinated.
“Either number seems like big news,” Carlson said. “Now the number may be small in total, in the aggregate, but the fact that anybody is going to the hospital — particularly a big percentage of people are going to the hospital — has already been vaccinated, is the opposite of what they’ve been telling us here in the United States. They’ve been telling us anyone who’s fully vaccinated is fine.”
That is not what has been said, of course. Since the beginning, the efficacy of the vaccines has included the fact that they aren’t foolproof and won’t prevent all infection or hospitalization. Initial trials showed no deaths following full vaccination, but it was never expected that this would necessarily hold as the number of vaccinated people ballooned into the millions.
The key point here is that “the number may be small” qualifier. Since so many people have been vaccinated in the United Kingdom, particularly among the older people who are most at risk from complications, the odds increase that those who do see the worst effects are increasingly from the vaccinated population. The point is entirely that there are far fewer such incidents, that the number is small.
But this is Tucker Carlson. So we get his analysis of comments from the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who said that “if you’re fully vaccinated, you are protected against severe covid hospitalization and death and are even protected against the known variants, including the delta variant circulating in this country.”
She didn’t say that you were uniformly protected, of course. But Carlson nonetheless accused Rochelle Walensky of intentional dishonesty.
“We’re not saying there’s no benefit to the vaccine. There may well be profound benefits to the vaccine. Our mind is open and has been from the first day,” Carlson said. “We never encourage anyone to take or not to take the vaccine. Obviously, we’re not doctors, but we know lying when we see it. And you just saw it to say again in unison, and they’re all saying it. This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated is simply untrue. That’s a lie.”
Perhaps you, too, know lying when you see it.
The point of describing the current situation as “a pandemic of the unvaccinated” is to reinforce that vaccinations significantly stem new infections and the worst effects. In report after report from local hospitals, we hear that the vast majority of new covid patients are unvaccinated. Those infections can then lead to other infections, including, in rarer cases, among the vaccinated.
Carlson later made explicit the subtext to his constant doubt-sowing.
“The advice they’re giving you isn’t designed to help. It’s designed to make you comply,” he said of experts who appear on television. “And you shouldn’t comply mindlessly. You’re an American adult. You were allowed to ask simple questions and then demand clear answers. That’s why we live here. That’s your birthright.”
And here’s Carlson and Fox News outlining all of the questions they think you should ask. Then, after Hannity’s show, it was Laura Ingraham’s turn. Different hour; same routine.
She, like Carlson, was seemingly particularly incensed at the idea that her network and the political right were to blame for misinformation on the vaccines when, she claimed, “in reality, it’s Biden and his allies who’ve been the consistent superspreaders of misinformation on covid.” Because of masks or something.
Ingraham reiterated Carlson’s claims about the Texas legislators and Vallance’s self-correction.
“Why doesn’t the Biden administration address this,” she asked of what she incorrectly presented as damning evidence against the vaccines. She asked why government experts haven’t spoken about the things that she on that particular day had plucked from the cherry tree to prove her point about how doubt was warranted. “Or at least,” she asked, why hadn’t the administration “put renowned vaccine expert Olivia Rodrigo on it?”
This is a reference to the pop star who came to the White House to help advocate for vaccinations, giving Ingraham an opportunity to ridicule the whole effort.
The worst misinformation on Ingraham’s show, though, came from guests. She hosted professional skeptic Alex Berenson, who proceeded to regurgitate incomplete information about vaccinations in the United Kingdom and Israel. Later she welcomed Fox contributor Raymond Arroyo, who rattled off a litany of rare effects that have been seen after vaccinations.
“That could be what’s fueling the hesitancy among the young,” he suggested, “and I don’t think a pop star and Uncle Joe are going to overcome those facts.”
Maybe that’s what’s fueling hesitancy, sure. And maybe some hesitancy is being fueled by people who are deeply invested in undercutting the government effort to encourage vaccinations, repeatedly highlighting outliers and rare occurrences sow as much doubt as possible and to cast the government as the opposition.
“There are a lot of those people giving you medical advice on television, and you should ignore them,” Carlson said at one point in his program — perhaps the best insight on the situation he offered over the course of his hour.