For months now, Fox News has struggled to get its story straight on the COVID-19 vaccine. Tucker Carlson has likened the shot to an authoritarian “social control” project, and Alex Berenson—Fox’s go-to skeptic for all things COVID related—falsely claimed that vaccinated people are getting “sick or dying, as has happened in Israel.” Earlier this month, Charlie Kirk, who founded pro-Trump youth group Turning Point USA, suggested on Carlson’s show that vaccine mandates are an “apartheid” policy designed to discriminate against unvaccinated Americans.
At the same time, a number of other Fox News personalities—primarily its daytime news anchors and morning hosts—have vouched for the vaccine on air; the hosts of Fox & Friends even acknowledged they were vaccinated during their first day back in the studio together. Behind the scenes too, the network has taken the virus seriously, vacating its corporate offices during the height of the pandemic and asking employees to take precautions. Most recently, according to CNN, Fox News has quietly begun mandating an in-office vaccine passport of sorts by developing “a secure, voluntary way for employees to self-attest their vaccination status.” (Fox did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.)
It’s possible that Fox’s mixed messaging, and in particular its role in fomenting vaccine hesitancy, has been prevalent enough for Joe Biden’s administration to take notice. Although it didn’t get into specifics, a separate CNN report on Tuesday noted that the White House and Fox News have held “regular, high-level conversations” about the network’s pandemic coverage. A source familiar with the talks told the outlet that “there has been no singular conversation that has played a role in Fox’s coverage of COVID-19,” but said the two entities are frequently in touch—a claim seemingly confirmed by White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “We understand…the importance of reaching Fox’s audience about the COVID-19 vaccines and their benefits, and like we are with all of you here today we, of course, are in regular contact,” she said during a press briefing. (In its own statement, Fox seemed to echo Psaki’s account, saying that while “there have been no high-level conversations between Fox News Media & the White House regarding our coverage,” their D.C. bureau personnel “are regularly in touch…on a variety of issues.”)
The question of Fox’s culpability in the pandemic has been raised early and often; the network was sued by a watchdog group for telling viewers, in essence, that COVID was nothing to worry about. The suit was ultimately thrown out, but as the delta variant causes a spike in infections, at least one of the network’s heavy hitters may be reevaluating. On Monday night, Sean Hannity told his audience to “Please take COVID seriously, I can’t say it enough. Enough people have died. We don’t need any more deaths…. Research like crazy, talk to your doctor, your doctors, medical professionals…it absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated. I believe in science. I believe in the science of vaccination.” His speech is a marked departure from March 2020, when Hannity claimed that the left was using COVID-19 to scare “the living hell out of people.”
Then again, it’s possible that Hannity’s change of heart isn’t so momentous. He used a similar line in May, telling people to “talk to your doctor” and that “I do believe in science, and I believe in vaccinations.” And his monologue on Monday was bookended by segments decrying college vaccination requirements. Most importantly, others at Fox are still beating the same paranoid drum. In the hour-long block after Hannity, Laura Ingraham questioned the effectiveness of vaccines: “Anyone else think it’s weird that five fully vaccinated members of the Texas Legislature who fled to D.C. in their voting rights stunt tested positive for the coronavirus? We have to know more about that,” she said. Just before, Carlson had this to say about recent infection rates: “The numbers are bad? What are the real numbers? Who knows? No one will say.”
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