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Fox’s mixed messages on vaccines come under close scrutiny

“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 indicated that vaccines are the only way out of the pandemic, stronger ignorance has sowed 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,” Jonathan Weisman and Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote 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.”

So is there a way out of this political divide and the pandemic? Media reporters observed some small changes on Fox airwaves at the same time as congressional reporters noticed changes in tone among some GOP lawmakers. But attitudes around vaccination hardened over the year. And some of Fox’s top rated shows air anti-vaccination plots …

“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.
Elsewhere in Fox’s orbit, host Kayleigh McEnany has gone out of her way to promote the “Trump vaccine”; anchor Neil Cavuto forbidden Dr. Anthony Fauci of far-right villainy; and several anchors directed viewers to the Vaccines.gov website. A search of the TVEyes database shows that Fox shows tapped Vaccines.gov at least seven times this week, after going six weeks without mentioning the website at all.

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 hotbed 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 not clear how successful the administration has been. A source close to the talks told CNN 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 has not done: “The White House did not call the network. It did not engage it aggressively, either,” wrote Christopher Cadelago and Sam Stein of Politico. . “Some supporters of the vaccination campaign say this 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 an official, 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 rollout vaccine began in earnest, the network’s highly-watched prime-time programming default position 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’re 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. “

Ultimately it is about whether viewers and listeners are being served by sources they trust.

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