Ten days after the United Kingdom began doling out Covid-19 vaccine, Rupert Murdoch received his first dose. At that point, fewer than half a million people had been vaccinated worldwide. In a statement released the same day, Murdoch “strongly” encouraged “people around the world to get the vaccine.”
The 90-year-old Murdoch’s media empire, spanning three continents, is built around persuasion. In Australia, where he got his start 69 years ago, he is a kingmaker—his outlets killed a carbon tax in 2014. In Britain, his power has only grown since the 2011 phone-hacking scandal that brought down his repulsive tabloid News of the World. Later, his Sun led the Brexit campaign. And in America, his cable news network, Fox News, has acted as the principal distributor of propaganda for the American right for the last 25 years. A 2017 study found that Fox single-handedly boosted George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign by almost 4 points. Without it, he would not have been reelected. And between 2017 and 2021, the network served as de facto state television for Donald Trump, treating him as a magisterial Dear Leader figure, and a kind of political messiah.
Even though Murdoch personally endorsed the vaccine, Fox News has been arguably the most powerful media outlet pushing vaccine skepticism in the United States. On December 17, the day before Murdoch was jabbed, Tucker Carlson told his viewers to be suspicious of the “too slick” rollout of the vaccine. For the last five months, he has pushed baseless skepticism, all under the guise of just asking questions. “It turns out there are things we don’t know about the effects of this vaccine (and all vaccines, by the way...),” he wrote in March. Sean Hannity has also expressed “doubts” about taking the vaccine, and both Carlson and Laura Ingraham have hosted uncredentialed vaccine truthers like the thriller writer Alex Berenson and dynastic failson Robert Kennedy Jr.
Fox News’ audience is old—the median age of a prime-time viewer in 2015 was 68—and particularly vulnerable to the virus. But that doesn’t matter. The other lynchpins of Murdoch’s media empire—newspapers and books—aren’t raking in cash the way they used to; Fox, meanwhile, is facing competition from the right, in the form of even loonier networks like Newsmax and One America News. Acknowledging basic science, it seems, doesn’t pay the bills.