The old adage that “sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you” has been proved false yet again in an analysis by the media watchdog group Media Matters.
Watching Fox News — and Tucker Carlson in particular — remains one of the strongest influences against accepting the COVID-19 vaccines as effective and safe and thereby putting yourself at greater risk for infection and death. There is no peer-reviewed, professional data to support such claims against the vaccines, which have been deemed “very safe” with “very small” chances of negative side effects.
Media Matters analyzed thousands of hours of Fox News programming that aired from Jan. 20, which was inauguration day, through Nov. 30, 2021. It’s finding: “Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show undermined vaccines 99% of the days it covered them since Biden became president.”
Watching Fox News — and Tucker Carlson in particular — remains one of the strongest influences against accepting the COVID-19 vaccines as effective and safe and thereby putting yourself at greater risk for infection and death.
The nonprofit Media Matters describes itself as “a progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.”
Using digital technology, the researchers scanned Fox News broadcasts during the 10-month period looking for extended discussion of keywords related to the pandemic and vaccines. They labeled content as undermining vaccines “if they described the vaccines as unnecessary or dangerous; coercive, representing government overreach, or violating personal freedom or choice; or cynical ploys for political or financial gain. We also considered claims that dismissed the efficacy of vaccines; highlighted individual experiences with vaccine hesitancy; politicized vaccine distribution or deployment speed; criticized continued adherence to health measures; or suggested that vaccination efforts are a violation of civil rights, liberties, and freedoms or are a form of control.”
Tucker Carlson’s top-rated Fox News show was full of just such claims. In fact, the analysis found Tucker Carlson Tonight aired at least one claim undermining vaccines nearly every day it covered the issue of vaccines.
Media Matters explained: “As the Biden administration kicked its COVID-19 vaccination campaign into full gear early this year, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight ramped up its own countercampaign to undermine efforts to get people vaccinated. In the first 10 months of the Biden presidency, host Tucker Carlson and his guests pushed a claim that undermined vaccines in 113 of 114 episodes with vaccine segments on his show — 99% — despite mounting evidence repeatedly supporting the efficacy of the vaccine.”
Those references showed up in about half of Carlson’s original episodes aired during this time period. Carlson’s show is Fox’s most-watched program, averaging 3.1 million viewers a night last year. And Fox News was the most watched cable news channel in America for the sixth consecutive year in 2021.
The network favored by political and religious conservatives has been cited previously as one of the chief purveyors of vaccine conspiracy theories. Media Matters analysts agreed: “Fox News’ overall coverage of vaccination efforts during this time was atrocious, but Carlson and his guests were among the worst culprits, constantly undermining the vaccines’ efficacy and safety.”
“Fox News’ overall coverage of vaccination efforts during this time was atrocious, but Carlson and his guests were among the worst culprits, constantly undermining the vaccines’ efficacy and safety.”
Among typical examples of vaccine denial, Carlson and his guests spectacularly undermined COVID vaccines with claims such as these:
- Claiming in July that the COVID-19 vaccine is killing people and the government and media are covering it up.
- Comparing vaccine requirements to Jim Crow, apartheid and forced sterilization.
- Suggesting that vaccine requirements or vaccine passports are forms of control or violations of civil liberties and freedoms.
- Highlighting individuals who experienced complications from the vaccine or contracted COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine.
- Relying heavily on self-reported anecdotes and unscientific data, such as the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, to fearmonger about side-effects and potential adverse reactions to vaccination.
Throughout the Biden presidency, Tucker Carlson Tonight and Fox News have consistently undermined public health efforts to protect people from COVID-19. This constant anti-vaccine campaign has resulted in real-life consequences, as Fox News viewers are shown to be less likely to get vaccinated than other networks’ audiences.
In July, Rob Davidson, an emergency room physician in Michigan, wrote for NBC News that Fox News’ “denialism” about COVID vaccines was killing his patients.
“What’s truly tragic is that the disinformation my patients and their families hear from their favorite commentators and pundits is dangerously, life-threateningly wrong,” he wrote. “They should listen to their family doctors for medical advice, not Sean Hannity — whom researchers have connected to higher infection rates — or Tucker Carlson, who suggested with zero evidence that COVID-19 vaccines don’t work.”
The influence of Hannity, Carlson and Fox News in general led to lower-than-average vaccination rates in Michigan, which led to more hospitalizations and deaths when the Delta variant hit, Davidson explained.
Even local Republican leaders who believe in the vaccines tried to intervene against the Fox News narrative, but to no avail, the doctor added. “Community groups within our conservative stronghold thought they could buck the Fox News narrative and persuade reluctant Republicans to get vaccinated. They recruited local Republican leaders to encourage their supporters to get their shots. But instead of getting more people vaccinated, these public servants got death threats.”
Similar stories are told across the nation — especially in politically and religiously conservative areas where Fox News has disproportionate influence.
This is not the first time researchers have drawn a direct line between Fox News and people believing fabricated information.
In its 2020 national survey, Public Religion Research Institute found that from religion to immigration to race to the economy and the president’s approval rating, the most notable distinction across all categories was how a respondent answers this one question: Do you watch Fox News?
For Republicans — even before the COVID vaccines were available — this created the problem of a “party within a party,” demarcated by Republicans who trust Fox News and those who don’t.
PRRI founder Robert P. Jones explained in 2020 that this gap was a major contributor to a subset of Republicans denying other science-based facts, such as climate change. When PRRI asked, “Will climate change cause you harm?” it found Democrats (76%) and independents (61%) are more likely than Republicans (31%) to believe this. But only 18% of Republicans who trust Fox News believe climate change will cause them harm, compared to 39% of Republicans who most trust other news sources. On this issue, Fox News loyalty doubled the likelihood of Republicans not believing climate change will cause them harm.
Ironically, when asked in 2020 how they believed then-President Donald Trump was handling the pandemic, nearly all Republicans who trust Fox News (94%) approved of his actions — which included giving the green light to rapid production of the COVID vaccines, which he personally has taken and even received a booster shot.
Baptist Press, Fox News and America’s departure from reality | Opinion by Mark Wingfield