A lot of conservatives are upset at claims by Joe Biden that the lies being spread about the vaccines on Facebook, Fox News, and other places are killing people.
Biden is right. Misinformation like that spewed by Carlson is certainly a substantial factor in some people refusing to get vaccinated. Some people have believed the lies, refused the vaccine as a result of the misinformation, and died as a result of not taking the vaccine.
Tucker Carlson has 3 million viewers. You don’t think any of those three million have refused vaccines in substantial part based on misinformation from his and similar shows? Is this the only issue where his millions of viewers ignore him?
Studies have shown that there is a relationship between those who view the propaganda and those who do not get vaccinated.
Those reporting getting their information from various other media did not show significant differences in vaccine acceptance, but viewers of Fox News did report being more hesitant than viewers of other broadcast news, the research showed. Authors noted that it is possible that individuals gravitate toward the cable news networks that present a view on the pandemic that is aligned with their own opinions.
The conservatives upset with Biden seize on that second sentence to argue that the anti-vax propaganda out there has no effect, because everyone tuning in already believes the anti-vax anyway. Nobody’s mind is changed by Tucker, the argument goes, because Tucker is just telling people what they already believe. That’s why they watch him!
If your argument is that media figures who spew vile and false Trumpist garbage cannot be influencing anyone, because the people who tune in to hear vile and false Trumpist garbage already believe the vile and false Trumpist garbage, you are bypassing the question of how they came to believe vile and false Trumpist garbage to begin with.
You could use that argument to argue that literally no propaganda has any effect on anyone because the people listening to it already believed it. According to this argument, Rush Limbaugh never influenced anyone. Sean Hannity never influences anyone. Tucker Carlson never influences anyone. Donald Trump never influences anyone. All of these people just tell citizens things they already believe. But how did the citizens come to hold these beliefs in the first place? I don’t know! But certainly not because they listened to Trump or Limbaugh or Carlson! Probably the citizens were just . . . born believing the election was stolen and vaccines don’t work.
Does this argument really hold together? Why don’t conservatives make this argument about the liberal media that we all rail about? Does anyone argue that the lies of the New York Times don’t matter because New York Times readers already believe the lies they are told? Is such an argument coherent and persuasive?
It’s the same logic that underlies the view that Trump is purely a symptom of the sentiment out there and not a cause of anything. That’s too simplistic. He’s both a symptom and a cause. If someone had strangled baby Trump in his crib, there likely would not have been an insurrection at the Capitol in 2020, because whoever ran against Biden would not have refused to concede or stuck with a Giant Lie about voter fraud.
What leaders say matter. What presidents say matters. What leading media figures say matters.
Some conservatives relatedly argue that pro-vax people don’t tune into Tucker, so nobody is being flipped from pro-vax to anti-vax. But when we talk about the unvaccinated, we are talking about a wide range of demographics and perspectives. The issue is not merely “has Tucker convinced a pro-vax person to go anti-vax?” It’s not even “has Tucker had a but-for effect on people who were resolutely anti-vax from jump street?” This is a big country with many levels of resistance and/or hesitancy. Many subscribe to insane conspiracy theories and are unpersuadable. But a) many got that way by imbibing misinformation including from Fox News and b) not everyone is completely unpersuadable. Some people are on the fence. And I know millions of people watch Fox News opinion shows for the Real Facts Big Media Won’t Tell You — and the notion that their anti-vax propaganda has zero effect on anyone is, in my view, highly, highly, highly implausible.
The wide range of perspectives out there also encompasses the reality that black and Hispanic communities are more hesitant/resistant on average than white communities. I have seen some conservatives seize on the fact that people of color are being vaccinated at lower rates to argue that most of the unvaccinated are people of color. That doesn’t follow and it’s not true. Because non-Hispanic whites are still a distinct majority in this country, it’s still mostly white folks not getting vaccinated. Don’t take my word for it. Look at the link that most of the conservatives are relying on. It says: “Around two-thirds (64%) of vaccinated adults are White, compared to 56% of unvaccinated adults.” If 56% of unvaccinated adults are white, people of color cannot be a majority of the unvaccinated.
Conservatives also argue that Tucker Carlson can’t have caused all of the unvaccinated because he has only three million viewers — just a fraction of the unvaccinated. Certainly nobody says Carlson is solely responsible for the lack of vaccination in this country. No single person is. But they are all part of the misinformation ecosystem that is persuading people not to be vaccinated. Which kills those people. You don’t have to believe Tucker caused every unvaccinated person not to be vaccinated to believe he is influential. And he’s influential beyond his three million viewers, because they repeat his bullshit to others and it becomes part of the bullshit ecosystem. Just like the New York Times has a long tail of influence that extends beyond the numbers of people who actually read their articles, so too do Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson have influence beyond those who tune in. People repeat his garbage on Facebook and Twitter. They repeat it to their friends and family members. It matters.
My argument is not that everyone who watches Tucker, or even most of them, will die. The point is: some people are dying, still, and they are overwhelmingly those who were not vaccinated. About 9,000 died of COVID in the United States in June. Something caused those people not to get the vaccine. Whatever that something was, was a substantial cause of their death. That something may well be a complex set of causes for any given person. But the notion that no part of that something could be misinformation from Fox News, for any of those people, strikes me as so improbable as to be laughable.