If you’re a Fox News fan, your opinion of whether you should get the coronavirus vaccine may depend on when and who you watch.
On his 8 p.m. show, opinion host Tucker Carlson has consistently derided efforts to promote vaccination. “Almost 4,000 people died after getting the COVID vaccines,” he warned last week, implying causation where experts say there is none, and relying on self-reported and unverified data from the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System.
But elsewhere on the schedule, many other Fox commentators have talked up the benefits of vaccination — sometimes clashing with their own colleagues on air.
“There is so much freedom,” Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt said during a segment on Monday morning, telling viewers that she and her two co-hosts have been vaccinated. “I will tell you when I got it, it was just like, ‘OK, now I know I’m not going to get (the virus). I’m not going to die from it if I do get it.”
Her co-host Steve Doocy said getting vaccinated was “a relief,” adding that “it’s the people who have not gotten the shot, which, ultimately, they’re the ones who are in peril.”
But a third co-host, Brian Kilmeade, appeared to defend those who have chosen not to get vaccinated. They are “making their own decisions,” he said. “If you don’t choose it, that’s OK.”
Meanwhile, Fox News anchors such as Bret Baier, Dana Perino and Bill Hemmer have posted photos on Instagram of themselves getting a shot. Harris Faulkner, who hosted a town hall meant to “debunk common myths” about the vaccine, told viewers in a public service announcement in February to get it if they can. And last month, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume said that he was fully vaccinated and urged “everybody to do that.”
Hume added, however, “I can certainly understand why people would be hesitant.”
Fox News commentator and rising star Tomi Lahren is more than hesitant. “You know what? I personally will not get the COVID vaccine, and I personally will not be forced to get it,” she said on her Fox Nation streaming show last month. “If you want to get it, by all means, please do. If you want to wear one, two or five masks while driving or walking alone, by all means, please do.”
If that sounded a bit sarcastic, Lahren has also dismissed the benefits of wearing masks, which she has called “face diapers.”
Fox News host Sean Hannity has been on something of a vaccine roller coaster. He said in January that he was “beginning to have doubts” about getting a shot, despite telling friends he was planning to. On his radio show last month, he said he was “not anti-vaccine” but did not plan to reveal whether he eventually got one.
“It’s none of your business,” Hannity said. “I probably would have told people my decision until everyone started demanding that I tell them what my decision is.” He said taking the vaccine “has got to be an individual decision” and encouraged his listeners to read about people who have had negative reactions to the vaccine. (He didn’t specify what they should read, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s literature makes clear that severe side effects to the vaccine are rare.)
After going back and forth for weeks, Hannity ultimately said he would get a shot.
His colleague, Laura Ingraham, said last month that Americans might not see a benefit in getting the vaccine if they won’t be able to immediately “have your life back.” She called it a “bait-and-switch” and added, “I think that’s the No. 1 problem they’re having with this messaging on the vaccine, because they’re like, ‘Why should I get a vaccine? I’m not even going to get my freedom back.'” (The CDC announced this week that fully vaccinated people can go about their lives unmasked in most situations.)
On April 1, co-anchors Hemmer and Perino talked on air about getting the vaccine, and Hemmer told viewers that he was scheduled to get his first shot the following day. “You’ll be fine,” Perino assured him a few weeks later, before he went for his second shot. She even made light of a common side effect: fatigue. It’s “a great excuse to take a nap,” Perino said.
But the next month, Hemmer seemed to have second thoughts about his decision. He criticized President Joe Biden for suggesting that vaccinated people continue wearing masks when close to one another and wondered aloud: “Can I rewind the hands of time and not make that decision to get the second shot? Or even the first one?”
Last month, “The Five” co-host Greg Gutfeld revealed that he and his co-hosts have been vaccinated and added, in a rare moment of self-criticism, that they were “hypocrites” for not returning to normal and hosting the show in-person.
“We have the vaccines, and we have the rapid testing. There is no reason for us to be doing this all the time, unless it’s legal (nonsense),” Gutfeld said. “We’re controlled by lawyers.”
The man at the top of the company food chain, Rupert Murdoch, has come out strongly in favor of being vaccinated. After receiving a shot in December in the United Kingdom, Murdoch said in a statement that he “strongly encourage(s) people around the world to get the vaccine as it becomes available.”
That was the same month that Carlson told his Fox News viewers efforts to promote the vaccine were “too slick.”
“It all seems a bit much,” Carlson said. “It feels false because it is.”
In February, Carlson said that Americans “are being discouraged from asking simple, straightforward questions about (the vaccine)” and potential side effects. “If the vaccine was so great, why were all these people lying about it?”
Last month, Carlson theorized that vaccinated people were being asked to still wear masks in certain circumstances because “maybe (the vaccine) doesn’t work and they’re simply not telling you that.”
During an appearance on CNN Sunday, network medical commentator and George Washington University professor of medicine Jonathan Reiner criticized Carlson’s commentary and called him a “saboteur.”
“That’s precisely what he’s trying to do: sabotage the vaccination program,” Reiner told The Washington Post.
While opinion show hosts are generally given more latitude than traditional news anchors to take controversial positions and push back on government orthodoxy, Reiner argued that Carlson and his colleagues still have an obligation to be truthful.
“I think Carlson’s vaccine commentary does not just have the potential to discourage viewers from getting vaccinated,” he said, “but for reasons clear only to him, they are actually intended to discourage vaccinations.”
Carlson’s comments are particularly noteworthy because of the outsized role he plays in right-leaning television. His show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” is regularly the most-watched program on Fox News, consumed by millions of people every night — and even more in video clips that spread quickly across the internet.
“Viewers tend to trust those whose programming they regularly consume,” said University of Pennsylvania professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an expert on conservative media. “Combine that trust with ongoing exposure and reinforcement in other media channels, and a popular host who creates or reinforces concerns about a COVID vaccine or about COVID vaccination in general can reduce the likelihood of vaccination among devoted viewers.”