Fox News spent much of last week warning its viewers about the Biden administration’s most sinister plot yet: an initiative to send people door-to-door to encourage Covid-19 vaccinations, in order to protect vulnerable and unvaccinated populations from the ravages of the pandemic as cases begin to tick upward once again.
“Going door-to-door? This is creepy stuff,” Fox News host Laura Ingraham said. “Someone comes up to your door outside wearing a mask, showing up at your house claiming to work for the government, asking you personal medical questions. What could possibly go wrong there?” Tucker Carlson, wearing his trademark facial expression—confused Labrador retriever—sounded a similar note of consternation and outrage: “The idea that you would force people to take medicine they don’t want or need—is there a precedent for that in our lifetimes?”
“They’re going to knock on your door, they’re going to demand that you take it, and they’re going to give you a third shot,” Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade said. “It’s unbelievable how offensive this administration is getting with a pandemic that is clearly on the run. We’re doing better than any other country. Almost 60 to 70 percent of this country has taken two shots, and yet this administration is panicking and infiltrating our lives.”
“The focus of this administration on vaccination is mind-boggling,” Kilmeade concluded.
The bizarre line that Fox took on the matter wasn’t so distinct from the way the same subject was being treated in the GOP’s Beltway fever swamps. Marjorie Taylor Greene referred to potential vaccinators as “medical brownshirts showing up at their door ordering vaccinations,” while Lauren Boebert called them “needle Nazis.” The best thing you can say about Fox’s coverage of this new endeavor is that it is comparably light on Holocaust references.
The focus on vaccination from the Biden administration is hardly “mind-boggling,” however. It’s true that the administration’s vaccination campaign has been successful at bringing the nation back to the threshold of what we might have referred to as “normal life” during those early days of quarantine. But infections are starting to increase again after a long decline due to the fact that the highly contagious delta variant is rapidly spreading, particularly across populations with low vaccination rates. Given the fact that there is a highly partisan divide in vaccination rates—counties that voted for Biden have a 10 percent higher vaccination rate than those that voted for Trump—the fact that Fox News is going out of its way to fuel vaccine hesitancy is as estranged from reality as it gets. The news channel’s unbreakable commitment to vaccine skepticism is literally killing its audience.
While the prevalence of vaccine misinformation has been especially conspicuous of late, this is hardly a new practice at Fox. Back in June 2020, The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan reported on a series of studies that placed Fox News at the center of a “media ecosystem that amplifies misinformation, entertains conspiracy theories and discourages audiences from taking concrete steps to protect themselves and others,” leaving its own viewers “dangerously duped” at the outset of the pandemic.
The endless stream of misinformation peddled by the network has hardly abated since the advent of the Covid-19 vaccines. Last December, days after Fox honcho Rupert Murdoch received the jab, Tucker Carlson began seeding the network’s narrative: that the rollout of the vaccine was too “slick,” that surely they were hiding dangerous, adverse, and unknown side effects. “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,” Carlson said, earlier this spring.
The network’s narrative on the vaccine is simple and sinister. The vaccines are unproven and may be worse than the disease itself. The government is covering up the risks involved for reasons that are never quite specified but always amount to the Orwellian: It wants to control everything about your life, down to what you choose to put in your body. Insisting that college students receive the vaccination in order to attend class was, as Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk recently said on Carlson’s show, “almost this apartheid-style open-air hostage situation, like: ‘Oh, you can have your freedom back if you get the jab.’”
“Despite everything the experts either got wrong or lied about, they still think that parents should trust them and inject their kids with an experimental drug to prevent a disease almost none of those kids will ever get sick from,” Ingraham told her viewers. The message is clear: Children and young people shouldn’t get the vaccine because it’s dangerous for everybody. The result is a narrative that bolsters vaccine hesitancy at the precise moment right-wing outlets should be pushing their viewers, who are older and more at risk for Covid-19, to get vaccinated.
Instead, Fox hosts are doubling down on concern-trolling about the vaccine. It’s not hard to imagine that part of what fuels this anti-vaccine animus is simply that the network is terrified that a significant portion of its audience might decamp to one of the nuttier territories of the right-wing media ecosystem. After all, if its viewers arrive with skepticism about the vaccine, then its hosts had better help feed those tendencies. But from the perspective of Fox News, its vaccine narrative also helps to bolster a larger argument about the authoritarianism of the Biden administration: Yes, he may seem like a kindly, dull old man, but he is, in fact, out to control everything about your life.
It is almost an understatement to note that what Fox News is fueling is tragic and sickening. States won by Donald Trump have significantly lower vaccination rates than those that voted for Biden—21 of the 22 states with the lowest vaccination rates are red. Given the severity and danger of the delta variant, there are significant risks for unvaccinated Fox viewers. This is the population that will suffer the most as new variants emerge, not the happily jabbed. Instead of telling the truth, the network’s hosts will put their viewers’ lives at risk in a pursuit so nihilistic that it can no longer truly be discerned as a rational political ideology.