“Get vaccinated,” Senator Mitch McConnell said Tuesday. And, he added, just as important, “ignore all those other voices that are obviously giving bad advice.”
McConnell’s words were newsworthy because of the “other voices” he mentioned – the anti-vaccination talking heads that overwhelmed common sense in GOP circles this year.
For every knowledgeable right-wing leader who has pointed to vaccines as the only way out of the pandemic, stronger ignorance has sown doubt and denial on radio, television and the web. The result was measurable through death and disease maps.
“Conservative parts of the country are particularly affected,” wrote Jonathan Weisman and Sheryl Gay Stolberg in The New York Times on Tuesday. “Critical care units in southwest Missouri and northern Arkansas fill up or fill up quickly, while 40% of new cases occur in Florida. “
“Suddenly, the Conservatives are concerned about vaccines”
David A. Graham of The Atlantic wrote on Tuesday: “A number of right-wing leaders suddenly urged their audiences to get vaccinated the day before. Why now ? Graham cited Rep. Steve Scalise’s decision to get vaccinated, as well as Fox News and Newsmax pro-vaccination statements.
“Yesterday I went for the jab at CVS,” Fox Business host Charles Payne said Tuesday. “The place was dead,” he said, observing that “there was no demand” for the vaccine.
So, as Graham wrote, “Why now?
There is probably no single or simple answer. An optimist might say, innocently, that the Fox machine is currently raising awareness about vaccines because the Delta variant is causing new alarm about Covid-19, especially in Republican strongholds where Fox is influential. A cynic might say Fox is trying to score PR points and refute his criticisms so that Biden’s White House doesn’t name them and shame them, like President Biden did with Facebook last week. .
Speaking of Biden
White House outreach to Fox
The White House is trying to solve the problem of slowing Covid-19 vaccinations by engaging with an unlikely source: Fox News.
We all know that the network has been a source of hesitation in the face of vaccination and outright hostility. And we all know the network is remarkably popular among Republicans. So, as Kaitlan Collins and I reported on Tuesday, “The White House has attempted to contact Fox News over the past few months, although it is unclear how successful the administration has been. A source close to the talks told CNN that there had been regular conversations between the White House and Fox News regarding network coverage of the pandemic and vaccines. “
In the meantime, notice what the administration didn’t do: “The White House didn’t call the network. She didn’t aggressively engage him either, ”wrote Politico’s Christopher Cadelago and Sam Stein. “Some supporters of the vaccination campaign say it is a mistake …”
An “ocean of doubt”
We live in a media environment in which a few minutes of pro-vaccine commentary from Steve Doocy or Sean Hannity is used to portray Fox as a manager, even though those minutes are undermined by hours of reckless programming. Washington Post reporter Jeremy Barr described how Doocy’s pro-vaccine post “clashed with its longtime co-host Brian Kilmeade, who bristled to encourage Americans to get vaccinated, even though cases have increased in recent days due to the delta variant of the virus. “
Philip Bump, also of the Post, wrote that “it is difficult to determine whether Fox’s coverage reflects or stimulates its audience,” but “there is clearly a correlation between audience and skepticism. And since the vaccine rollout began in earnest, the network’s default position for much-watched prime-time shows has cast doubt on it. This has certainly been true for Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. Bump called it an “ocean of doubt”.
Chris Hayes of MSNBC summed up Fox’s post in a Tuesday night segment: “It’s not ‘Don’t get the shot’. It’s, “We’re just asking questions. We are not taking a position. Don’t follow the medical advice of people on TV. They are trying to make you respect, so you shouldn’t comply. It’s like, anti-pro-vax. “
This is how Sean Hannity approached the issue Monday night in a widely noticed clip. He said “I believe in the science of vaccination” but also spoke of “medical confidentiality” and told people to “research like mad”.
Figures like Hannity and Carlson reach far more people than GOP elected officials like Mitt Romney, who said last week that “if you hear conservative media suggesting that it is dangerous to get the vaccine, you are not. well served by these media. “
The bottom line is whether viewers and listeners are being served by sources they trust.