Why haven't Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity quit over Fox News's vaccine policy?
If Biden's mandate is a stepping stone toward totalitarianism, then I've got bad news about Fox Corp.
Fox News pushes all sorts of nonsense on a daily basis, and I won’t devote a newsletter to each bit of it. But the disconnect between what top hosts are saying about vaccine mandates and what their own employer has done is remarkable and worth some attention.
Fox News wants its millions of viewers to believe that President Biden’s vaccine-or-testing mandate is a step on the slippery slope toward totalitarian dictatorship. But what hosts aren’t telling their audience is that they toil under an even more rigorous policy in their own workplace.
So if Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity really want to practice what they preach, they should quit their jobs.
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"Joe, you canceled all medical freedom today with your broad edict and your mandates,” Hannity boomed in response to Biden’s policy.
Last month, Carlson described vaccine mandates as “a form of sadomasochism.”
“It is dominance and submission,” he said. “It's about power. If they can make you take medicine you don't want or need, they've won. You are theirs. You belong to them.”
Carlson and Hannity are far from the only Fox News personalities to portray mandates in this way.
"This is tyranny,” Mark Levin proclaimed in response to Biden’s policy. “And it's getting more and more aggressive. This is autocracy.”
"It is the beginning of the Communist-style social credit system,” added Rachel Campos-Duffy.
There’s obviously a difference between vaccine policies implemented by private businesses and ones implemented by government. But Carlson and Hannity have spent weeks not only railing against “mandates” in general, but also lionizing employees of private companies who are resisting them.
On Monday, for instance, Carlson devoted a segment to lauding Southwest Airlines pilots who called in sick instead of reporting to work to protest the company’s vaccine mandate.
And Tuesday brought more of the same across multiple Fox News shows.
Fear-mongering about vaccine policies has been a major theme of Fox News programming for a while now. As Matt Gertz and Harrison Ray recently detailed for Media Matters, since Biden announced the federal vaccine mandate last month, at least 30 segments have featured interviews with individuals saying they are defying vaccine policies at their places of work.
But if resisting vaccine mandates is a heroic act, then Carlson and Hannity should really save some of this energy for their own employer.
Despite what Tucker would have you believe, Fox Corp.’s vaccine policy is actually more stringent than Biden’s
Biden’s mandate, which applies to about 80 million American workers, including workers for businesses with more than 100 employees, requires vaccination or weekly Covid testing. But Fox Corp.’s policy goes a step further by requiring vaccination or daily Covid testing. (Fox also required employees to disclose their vaccination status.)
Fox Corp. implemented a vaccine mandate because mandates work. The vaccines are safe and effective. Whatever minor short-term side effects may exist pale in comparison to getting a severe case of Covid, which has now killed over 700,000 Americans. Evidence is mounting that mandates (or vaccinate-or-test policies) are having the desired impact of persuading those who haven’t already done so to get vaccinated.
There’s very little downside and lots of upside. So what the Carlsons and Hannitys of the world are doing a bit is like praising someone for driving down the highway without a seatbelt — in fact it’s even worse because car crashes aren’t contagious.
Biden, aware of the disconnect between Fox Corp.’s policy and the rhetoric coming from top Fox News hosts, has taken to regularly needling Fox News by name during speeches where he mentions employers who have implemented vaccine policies.
“Even — this I always get a kick out of — Fox News,” Biden smirked during a speech last Thursday, before whispering: “Fox News requires vaccinations for all employees. Give me a break. Fox News.”
Biden’s claim is technically false. Fox News does not require vaccinations for all employees — daily testing is an option for the unvaxxed. So on Monday’s edition of his show, Carlson made a big stink out of this distinction, saying “what Joe Biden just said is completely untrue. It is a lie. Period.”
The irony, of course, is that the very same loophole Carlson highlighted to call Biden a liar undercuts his own message about vaccine policies being a tyrannical power grab. Fox Corp. isn’t forcing its employees to get vaccinated, and neither does Biden’s mandate for businesses.
So why haven’t Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity quit?
This section could be really short — because they’re full of it. But I shouldn’t wrap up this newsletter without giving some recognition to the brilliant MSNBC segment that partly inspired it.
Last week anchor Chris Hayes highlighted the disconnect between what Fox News personalities are saying on the air and the conditions they’re apparently willing to endure.
“I think Tucker Carlson is going to quit Fox News,” Hayes said, tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Watch it for yourself:
Of course, Tucker Carlson is not really going to quit Fox News, because as even Fox News lawyers have acknowledged in court filings, his schtick is more akin to a pro wrestling promo than real journalism. As is the case with so much of what appears on America’s top-rated cable news network, the mandate fear-mongering is a performance meant to drive ratings while furthering the agenda of undermining the Democratic president.
Fox News insiders reportedly believe that railing against vaccine mandates is good business. From a recently Daily Beast piece by Roger Sollenberger and Asawin Suebsaeng:
One Fox News insider succinctly described the anti-COVID-mandate segments and vaccine-resistant commentary as “great for ratings.” Another current Fox employee said the numbers clearly demonstrated that there are vanishingly fewer subjects these days that get “our viewers more excited or engaged than” those kinds of segments.
But at least one former Fox News personality was dismayed by the revelation that Tucker and Hannity may not be practicing what they preach. After Biden mentioned Fox News’s vaccine policy during a speech last month, former Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes needed a fainting couch.
Hannity has indeed indicated he’s vaccinated without saying as much explicitly; Carlson has been even more coy about his own status but over-the-top comments he’s made about it when asked suggest he is as well. Yet the network undermines vaccines on a habitual basis, with Fox News programming making false claims about them on all but two days from April through September, according to a Media Matters analysis. (Isolated Fox News soundbites have duped casual media observers into writing stories about how Fox News is taking vaccination seriously, but those segments are the rare exceptions to the rule.)
Longtime followers of my work know that I like to laugh about the absurdity of Fox News, but this stuff has consequences. Morning Consult polling from August showed that Fox News viewers are significantly more vaccine skeptical than viewers of CNN or MSNBC, and more broadly the country has become polarized between largely vaccinated blue states and largely unvaccinated red ones.
Instead of encouraging vaccine-skeptical viewers to get vaccinated for their own health and for the health of the people around them, Carlson and Hannity continue to politicize basic public health and glorify people who are making selfish, irrational decisions. The combination of ratings and owning the libs is apparently too good to pass up.
It's not a mandate. They're making it harder to not be vaccinated by testing daily, but no one is losing their job for not being vaccinated, at least not yet.