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Fox News host Tucker Carlson has accused US authorities of “lying” about the safety of new coronavirus vaccines during a segment on his show attacking Big Tech and the media for censoring scepticism towards inoculation.
Rather than cover the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump on Tuesday night, the presenter addressed the pandemic, arguing that orthodoxies surrounding masks and social distancing had evolved without explanation and that any dissent was immediately being silenced.
“What about this vaccine?”, he asked. “Why are Americans being discouraged from asking simple, straightforward questions about it? How effective are these drugs? Are they safe? What's the miscarriage risk for pregnant women, for example? Is there a study on that? May we see it? And by the way, how much are the drug companies making off this stuff?
“Well there’s nothing QAnon about questions like that,” he continued. “They are not conspiracy theories, they're the most basic questions. In a democracy, every citizen has a right to know the answer, but instead we got fluff and propaganda.
“The media rollout for the vaccine came off like a Diet Pepsi commercial at the Super Bowl. Tonnes of celebrity endorsements, not a lot of science.”
Mr Carlson did not overtly question vaccines themselves, agreeing that most Americans supported them having seen the beneficial effects of treatments against polio, tetanus and chickenpox, but did attack “the way the authorities handled the coronavirus vaccine”, saying it “did not inspire confidence”.
“If the vaccine was so great, why were all these people lying about it? Honest question. And they were lying. Clearly, they were lying. You know that for certain because from the moment that Covid vaccine arrived, the most powerful people in America work to make certain that no one could criticise it.”
He then launched into criticism of vaccine proponent Melinda Gates, wife of billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates - who was shown in a clip from a CNN interview in December in which she said social media had a moral responsibility to tackle anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories - and pointed to the removal of a Facebook group named “COVID-19 Vaccine Injury Stories”.
The host then contradicted his own anti-censorship argument somewhat by alluding to a recent New York Times article reporting that Covid vaccines could trigger blood disorders in certain cases, a story that remains available online, on Facebook and on Twitter.
While Tucker Carlson’s argument had more to do with with attacking Silicon Valley gatekeepers than explicitly doubting vaccines - he has said he intends to accept the jab himself and his employer, Rupert Murdoch, has already had his - his defence of the right to question medical expertise follows a pattern among American conservative media of humouring the anti-vaxxer movement since the pandemic began.
Most recently, his Fox colleague Laura Ingraham used her Quake Media podcast to interview Robert F Kennedy Jr, son of the slain presidential candidate and US attorney general, who took the opportunity to attack the country’s top infectious diseases expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, by calling him “a very sinister guy who has turned this country over to Big Pharma” and “the J Edgar Hoover of public health”.
“Tony Fauci arranged for all of these vaccines to get immunity from liability, so no matter how negligent that company is, no matter how toxic the ingredients, no matter reckless they are, no matter how grievous your injury or death, you cannot sue them,” he said.
On the subject of mass vaccination strategies in pursuit of herd immunity, Mr Kennedy asked: “You have to give 300,000 vaccines to prevent one death - how many deaths are you going to cause in that cohort?”
Another Fox host, Sean Hannity, said on his show on 26 January that he is “beginning to have doubts” about whether he will personally get the vaccine because half of his friends “wouldn’t take it in a million years” and he doesn’t “know who to listen to.”
Renowned conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has also aired anti-vaxxer ideas, provoking an outcry in October when he made a guest appearance on Joe Rogan’s popular podcast and falsely claimed that an oral vaccine had caused polio in 100 per cent of recipients.
Evangelical pastors including Rodney Howard-Browne and Guillermo Maldonado have also expressed similar scepticism online, the former claiming last April that vaccines kill more people than viruses and the latter saying in December that vaccines are “preparing the structure for the Antichrist”.
On the pandemic more generally, Fox challenger One America News ran a segment in May 2020 claiming coronavirus was a “globalist conspiracy” masterminded by the elite to ensure then-US president Donald Trump was not re-elected, citing controversial medical researcher Judy Mikovits, who contributed to the widely discredited Plandemic viral video, which made similarly hysterical allegations.
Influential right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Mr Trump, also declared at the outset of the international disaster last February that Covid-19 was no more dangerous than the common cold.
While Mr Carlson’s free speech arguments against Big Tech might be reasonable, his accusation that medical authorities are “lying” to the American public risks further undermining trust when the pandemic has already claimed 468,000 American lives and counting.
A recent demonstration forcing the temporary closure of a vaccination centre at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles meanwhile exposes the danger of doubting the experts at a time when a YouGov poll found just 51 per cent of Americans are willing to be vaccinated.
New US president Joe Biden and his deputy Kamala Harris as well as celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger have made a point of receiving their jabs in public to counter public concerns about safety, while organisations such as International SOS have published fact-checking guidelines to counter online mythmaking over vaccines.