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Tucker Carlson Is Leading the Anti-Vax Right

The Fox News host has made skepticism about the Covid-19 vaccine part of his larger narrative about cancel culture and elites.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson laughing during happier times (for him).
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In an email to staff last week, Fox News’s Lachlan Murdoch announced that the network won’t be reopening its offices until Labor Day. “The health and safety of our workforce has remained my priority,” Murdoch wrote. “With that as the guiding principle, we are deferring our next possible phase one reopening date to no earlier than September 7, immediately after Labor Day.” 

Murdoch and Fox aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary. Many businesses, including The New York Times, have made a similar decision to keep offices closed until at least Labor Day.  When it comes to its employees, Fox News is following the science by restricting indoor gatherings. Lachlan Murdoch’s 90-year-old father and boss, Rupert Murdoch, was vaccinated against Covid-19 late last year—again, nothing out of the ordinary. The elder Murdoch wrote that he “strongly [encouraged] people around the world to get the vaccine as it becomes available.” 

When it comes to its viewers, however, Fox News has been doing something very different. The network has been the epicenter of Covid denialism for much of the last year. In the early days of the pandemic, the network’s hosts insisted that the virus was a desperate attempt to “bludgeon Trump with a new hoax” and that the damage it could inflict was not “even a fraction of the magnitude of the common flu.” Its early coverage portrayed Donald Trump as a daring, fearless leader in command of the situation. 

Now, with the virus slowly being brought under control, the network’s opinion side has begun raising bogus concerns about the vaccine. And no one has done more to advance vaccine skepticism on the network than Tucker Carlson. 

Carlson led his Monday night program, the most popular on cable news, with a sinister segment that falsely suggested there were a vast number of unknown risks involved in vaccinations. “Don’t dismiss those questions from anti-vaxxers,” he said. “Don’t kick people off social media for asking them. Answer the questions.”

“It turns out there are things we don’t know about the effects of this vaccine—and all vaccines, by the way. It’s always a trade-off,” he continued, slipping into full-on anti-vax mode. Late last year, he suggested that the vaccinations were a Democratic conspiracy. 

This is Carlson’s preferred, slimy schtick. He affects a forced innocence. There are legitimate concerns about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, he says, but the media, Big Tech, the Democrats are shutting down an honest debate. “Democrats believe vaccines are the answer to everything. ‘Shh. Don’t ask questions. Just take the shot,’” he said, late last year. In February, he claimed that “from the moment that coronavirus vaccine arrived, the most powerful people in America worked to make certain that no one could criticize it.” 

Carlson admits he doesn’t have all the answers, of course—all he wants is an honest debate, something his critics will never allow. 

This is the same narrative Carlson pushes on cancel culture. Here, too, the insidious power of the left, Big Tech, and the media combine. Many honest people like Carlson have questions that aren’t being answered; all they want is a debate. But instead, they are mercilessly canceled. The evil forces won’t rest until all of their critics are silenced. After all, if they’ll come for Dr. Seuss, they’ll come for you, too. 

In this version of reality, nothing you read or see can be trusted—except, that is, for Tucker Carlson, a champion of all the people fed up with being told what to do and say and think. Thankfully, they have a frozen-food heir with a perennially pursed lip to turn to. 

Carlson is making vaccines a part of his larger cultural narrative. This is profoundly cynical and could have life and death consequences for his viewers. It’s also cowardly—Carlson is hiding behind the pretext of “just asking questions,” allowing him to deny that he has any insidious intent at all. 

It’s all bullshit, of course. Despite Carlson’s claims, there is conclusive evidence that the vaccines are safe for the vast majority of people. If a debate is being shut down, it’s because having one isn’t necessary. Carlson isn’t even trying to have one. It’s not like his show features public health experts debating vaccine science. Last week, his show featured Alex Berenson, a former journalist and thriller writer who has risen to prominence as a Covid truther

Carlson is hardly alone on Fox, whose coverage of the vaccine has shifted markedly since Joe Biden became president. Laura Ingraham hosted Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the anti-vax king, on her podcast last month; Sean Hannity has admitted he has “doubts” about the vaccine. These hosts are well positioned to talk to actual public health experts and to provide their viewers with the truth about vaccines, which no one is suppressing. They invite cranks on instead. 

There is little doubt, however, that they will all receive their shots when the time comes—even if they will conceal that fact from their viewers.