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Tucker Carlson makes a great point about Fox News’s vaccination policy

If only such nuance were a feature of the criticisms of Biden’s policy

An image from “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” (Aaron Blake/The Washington Post)

A Fox News host on Monday night offered a rare — if brief — commentary on his company’s own vaccination policy, even as he and others continue to attack President Biden’s similar policy.

If only the nuance involved were extended to those criticisms.

After Biden announced his policy for businesses with more than 100 employees last month — and Fox criticized it alongside stricter vaccine mandates — critics of Fox News have responded by pointing to Fox News’s own vaccine policy, which is quite similar to that of Biden. Among those critics: the president himself, who has on multiple occasions likened his own policy to that of Fox News.

But Biden overstepped in his comparison last week, stating, “This I always get a kick out of: Fox News — Fox News requires vaccinations for all employees. Give me a break. Fox News.”

This is false, and Tucker Carlson correctly pointed that out Monday night. After he played the clip of Biden, Carlson said: “Now to be clear, we just have a show on this channel. That’s it. We don’t run the company, and we would never presume to speak for the company. As a factual matter, what Joe Biden just said is completely untrue.”

In fact, Fox News does not mandate vaccines; what it does mandate is either vaccination or daily testing.

As AP reported last month, Fox News hosts have shied away from talking about their company’s policy, and Carlson didn’t dwell on the point for more than a moment or even truly detail the policy. That’s probably because that Fox News policy is actually more stringent than the one Biden has announced for large businesses. Neither, in fact, require vaccination. Both allow for a testing alternative. Fox News’s is for daily testing, while Biden’s is for weekly testing.

It’s a distinction that we’ve repeatedly argued for emphasizing, as many (including supporters) have described Biden’s policy as a vaccine mandate.

But that lack of nuance is particularly pronounced on Fox News and in other conservative media. They’ve often pilloried Biden’s policy as if it were the same as the true vaccine mandates instituted by various businesses and local governments.

“Democrats’ plan to ensure that companies end up enforcing Biden’s vaccine mandate is to bankrupt the ones that don’t,” Fox host Laura Ingraham said Sept. 30.

“Would you support a lawsuit to try to stop this vaccine mandate for companies of 100 employees or more that Biden announced today,” Ingraham asked a guest on Sept. 9, the same day Biden announced the policy.

“Joe, you canceled all medical freedom today with your broad edict and your mandates, one-size-fits-all medicine,” Sean Hannity said the same day. “You eliminated medical privacy. You eliminated all doctor-patient confidentiality.”

“So Joe Biden’s order forcing a hundred million Americans to take the covid shot is totally insane as a matter of public health,” Carlson said in mid-September.

To be clear, much of the criticism on Fox News and in other conservative media is more broadly about vaccine mandates, which do exist for federal government employees and have been enacted by some businesses and local governments. But those are often lumped in with Biden’s policy as if they’re the same, and Biden’s policy is often talked about in the same manner (as the above examples show). Biden’s policy does not force “a hundred million Americans to take the covid shot,” just like Carlson emphasized Fox’s own policy doesn’t “require vaccinations for all employees.”

This is an issue that stretches beyond just Fox News. In the service of briefly summarizing Biden’s policy, it’s often been called a “vaccine mandate” in mainstream outlets. That will often be accompanied by clarification about the testing option, but it’s still probably better to be strictly accurate that it’s a vaccine-or-testing mandate. That matters both practically and legally speaking.

And the onus to correctly summarize the policy should be greater when you’re attacking it — so as to specify exactly what you think is wrong with it. If you’re summarizing the policy in a neutral way and you say it’s a vaccine mandate, that’s not the same as attacking it as if it’s truly forcing the vaccine upon people.

There’s also the valid argument about whether the government itself should be mandating these things, even if they aren’t actually mandating the vaccine for employees of large businesses. But that’s seldom what the argument is; the argument suggests that Biden’s policy is in line with actual vaccine mandates, and that it is an affront to freedom.

If that’s the case you’re making, it’s worth reconciling it with the fact that your own employer has a policy very similar to the one large businesses will be forced to abide by. Carlson, at least, took a step toward addressing that issue — albeit without truly talking about why he thinks there’s a difference between what he has been forced to abide by and what those hundred million Americans will be abiding by.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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