By Brian Stelter, CNN Business
A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Fox News rolled out a new public service announcement on Wednesday to encourage viewers to get a Covid-19 vaccine. “America, we’re in this together,” Steve Doocy said in the ad. “If you can, get the vaccine,” Harris Faulkner said.
It’s clear that Fox News management is proud of this PSA and wants everyone to see it. Websites like The Hill even wrote about it. But Fox’s highest rated host, Tucker Carlson, undermined the PSA barely an hour after it aired for the first time. He even seemed to take a dig at Fox’s decision to promote the vaccines.
He did it by bashing CNN: He said that “as a channel, CNN shouldn’t have a position on whether you should take medicine or not, because it’s a news channel, it’s not a health agency.” A little bit later, he added, “Why is a news channel doing this? Any news channel. A lot of them are.”
Yes, including Fox. Yet Carlson is objecting. I’d like to know how Doocy and Faulkner feel about Carlson’s reckless rhetoric…
“The exact opposite message”
Over on CNN, at the same time as Carlson’s rant, President Biden was speaking at a town hall and giving Fox some backhanded credit for changing its tune about vaccines.
“One of those other networks is not a big fan of mine, uh, one you talk about a lot,” he said, looking at moderator Don Lemon, “but if you notice, as they say in the southern part of my state, they’ve had an altar call, some of those guys. All of a sudden they’re out there saying, ‘Let’s get vaccinated. Let’s get vaccinated.’ The very people who before this were saying — so that — but that — I shouldn’t make fun of it. That’s good. It’s good. It’s good. We just have to keep telling the truth.”
Yes, there’s been a slight change in Fox’s tune, as I wrote in yesterday’s newsletter. I checked the TVEyes database to confirm this: Fox shows have plugged Vaccines.gov at least 7 times this week, after going 6 weeks without mentioning the site at all. No matter what, “this is a good thing,” Anderson Cooper said on CNN. His guest, Dr. Peter Hotez, said this shift “was clearly at the direction” of Fox management, after an earlier “systematic effort to delegitimize scientists.”
The shift is a welcome sign. But some of the news coverage has overstated the change. Fox’s highest-rated shows, starting with Carlson’s, are still spreading anti-vax storylines, as I described up above. Immediately after the town hall, CNN’s Dana Bash noted that on Fox “the exact opposite message was being sent as the president was speaking on CNN.” Arguably Biden gave the network way too much credit…
FOR THE RECORD
— Lemon expertly moderated Wednesday’s event in Cincinnati, and noted at the outset that the audience was fully vaccinated…
— During a commercial break in the town hall, Biden engaged with the crowd and fielded at least one question… (Twitter)
— Local angle to the town hall on Cincinatti.com: “Biden touts infrastructure deal to ‘fix that damn bridge…'” (Cincinnati.com)
— Donie O’Sullivan said he “checked in on a QAnon forum” after Biden mentioned the conspiracy cult during the town hall. “Discussion there has turned to how the person on stage isn’t really Biden,” O’Sullivan wrote… (Twitter)
“The rest of the world’s wondering about us”
Biden “raised the alarm about conspiracy theories flourishing in the US and dividing the nation, warning that ‘the rest of the world’s wondering about us,'” CNN’s Paul LeBlanc wrote. “Biden said the US has ‘got to get beyond this’ moment after referencing the QAnon conspiracy theory and the role of misinfo.”
>> Biden’s key quote: Democracy “has to stand up and demonstrate it can get something done…”
The “disinformation dozen” is being overhyped
Biden once again criticized the so-called “disinformation dozen” during the CNN town hall. The “dozen” was identified in a March report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate as super-spreaders of anti-vaccine propaganda. “I said they’re killing people. Those 12 individuals — that misinformation — is going to kill people,” Biden said Wednesday night.
I took a close look at the accounts that were identified in the report and I was underwhelmed. Since March, some have been banned in some way from one or another of Facebook’s platforms. Some have gone quiet. And others have learned how to post in ways that create less risk that Facebook will take action against them. In other words, they tiptoe up to FB’s “line” without crossing it…
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