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Hannity’s pro-vaccine speech is welcome.  But it’s not the voice of Fox News that matters most.

Sean Hannity. Illustrated | Screenshot / YouTube, iStock

Fox News host Sean Hannity made headlines when he urged viewers of his Monday night show to get vaccinated against COVID-19. “Please take COVID seriously,” Hannity said. “I can’t say it enough. Enough people are dead. We don’t need more deaths. Research like crazy, talk to your doctor,… and you and your doctor make a very important decision to your own safety. “

Hannity’s message is welcome. While far from being the most skeptical of the Fox line of vaccines, he spent weeks earlier this year wondering publicly if he would get the shot. Then, for a while, he said he would not reveal his decision while urging his audience to educate themselves on the side effects of vaccines. Research suggests that popular cable experts like Hannity may have a measurable influence on pandemic behavior, so kudos to Hannity for making it a positive influence, even belatedly.

But the importance of Hannity’s lyrics shouldn’t be overstated, as I think some coverage of his comments did. On the one hand, the Hannity star has fallen to Fox – he’s now routinely knocked out of the top spot by Tucker Carlson – and, like other cable news sources, Fox has lost one parcel audience over the past year, including at points of sale (such as Newsmax and One America News Network) more right-wing and more reliably anti-vaccine. Additionally, Fox’s commentary on the vaccine is collectively quite mixed up, with Carlson and Laura Ingraham holding very critical positions while morning host Steve Doocy defends vaccines.

Speaking of which, while the Hannity PSA is good, Carlson would be the real one here. Unfortunately, I suspect this is a gain that will only be achieved if outside pressure causes Carlson to change his tone. Early on in the pandemic, Carlson was the COVID hawk while Hannity didn’t take him seriously. After it became clear that right-wing opinion was not in favor of warmongering, Carlson changed. He could theoretically change again, but I doubt he would.

The other external factor that could move Carlson would be his network’s legal advice, which is the explanation many have advanced for Hannity’s remarks. I don’t think that’s what happened, given the trajectory of Hannity’s statements on COVID-19 and the continued anti-vaccine positions of some of his colleagues. But even if there was advice from a lawyer, I guess Carlson – the leader of valuations and the pilot of the think tank – would be exempt absent an existential legal threat to the network.

The test of the direction Fox is taking may have been Hannity (and then star Bill O’Reilly) ten years ago. Now it’s Tucker.

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