Conservative media offers mixed messages on COVID-19 vaccine

NEW YORK (AP) – When Dr Alexa Mieses Malchuk talks to patients about the COVID-19 vaccine, she tries to find out where they get their information from.

“Sometimes I feel like the education I have to provide depends on what news channel they’re watching,” said the doctor from Durham, North Carolina.

Mixed messages can come from the same medium – and even from the same source. On Monday on Fox News Channel, host Sean Hannity looked straight into the camera to deliver a clear message: “It makes perfect sense that many Americans get vaccinated. I believe in science. I believe in the science of vaccinations.

Still, Hannity continued her statement by interviewing a woman who protested against her university’s requirement that students be vaccinated, a segment drawing those skeptical of the vaccination campaign. His prime-time colleagues Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham have opened their own programs challenging vaccination efforts.

Skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccination is a common theme in the media attracting conservatives, despite assurances from doctors and scientists that the vaccine is safe and effective. Some medical experts fear that the conflicting views and complete mistrust of the vaccine shown by influential media figures are contributing to the failure to meet vaccination goals to stop the pandemic.

Two recent conversations in recent days on Fox News Channel’s popular morning show, “Fox & Friends,” illustrated the mixed message.

In a discussion of Los Angeles County’s decision to reinstate the requirement to wear masks indoors, even though people are vaccinated, guest host Lawrence Jones said, “People are saying, ‘Why get vaccinated if you are not going to get back to normal? What is the point of doing it? Why?'”

“Well, you won’t die,” replied his colleague Steve Doocy. “It’s a good reason.”

Doocy, arguably Fox’s most influential immunization figure, also took on co-host Brian Kilmeade on Monday when he said people shouldn’t be tried if they decide not to get the vaccine. Doocy responded that the vast majority of people who die from COVID-19 are not vaccinated.

“It’s their choice,” Kilmeade replied.

Several Fox News Channel figures – including Bill Hemmer, Dana Perino, Bret Baier, Greg Gutfeld and the three-member “Fox & Friends” morning crew – have been vaccinated and have made their status known. Rupert Murdoch, the founder of the network, was also trapped.

The prime-time hosts, who still have the largest audiences, are keeping their status to themselves, although Hannity has said he is going to get the shot. Carlson, when asked directly by two reporters if he had been vaccinated, responded by asking them their favorite sex position – his way of saying it’s too personal a question.

Even casual consumers of media targeting conservatives in recent months have absorbed deep skepticism about vaccines.

Malchuk says some patients who are happy to take his advice on, for example, diabetes medications, have resisted his encouragement that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in preventing serious illness.

“I see people polarized in terms of where they get their information from, who they get it from and, yes, it’s politically charged,” she said.

Dr Laura Morris, who works in an area of ​​Missouri that has seen an increase in COVID-19 infections, said she had hoped for less polarization and that more people would have responded by seeing the positive effect of the vaccines.

“There are a lot of things that are harmful to public health right now,” she said. “Anything that says vaccines are not good for you is wrong.”

Social media and the internet are major factors in what US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned last week as an alarming stream of vaccine misinformation.

Doctors like Malchuk and Morris, who see patients on a regular basis in Fulton, Missouri, suspect the internet is behind the most outlandish theories they refute – that vaccines cause cancer, harm people. fertility or contain microchips.

Most of the themes on radio or television stations like Fox, Newsmax, or One America News are more subtle or philosophical.

The vaccine is experimental, still not fully approved, is a line of attack. Wait and watch. There is no reason young people get it. Natural immunity is better. What I do is none of your business. The government – the Biden administration in particular – is intruding into your life, trying to take control of your body.

“The advice they give you is not designed to help you,” Carlson said Monday on his show, cable’s most popular news. “It’s designed to make you respect. “

Two hours later, Ingraham said it was President Joe Biden and his allies, not conservative media figures, who were “super-diffusers” of COVID-19 disinformation.

The cumulative effect of the stories is to sow doubt in the minds of people who may already be looking for a way to prevent a needle and syringe full of chemicals from entering their bodies, said Kristin Urquiza, who started the organization Marked By. COVID after his father died from the virus.

“They don’t come out and say, ‘Don’t get the shot,'” Urquiza said. “Their strategy is to create a culture of confusion. “

Carlson and Ingraham have been the most aggressive in challenging vaccinations. Carlson said that “the idea that you can force people to take drugs that they don’t want or need” is outrageous. But he also told viewers on Monday: “We’re not saying there is no benefit to the vaccine. The vaccine may well have profound benefits. Our mind is open and has been open from day one. We never encouraged anyone to take or not to take the vaccine. Obviously, we are not doctors.

Ingraham suggested that viewers “hide your children” from “Biden’s vaccine pushers.” She also said on Monday that “we want everyone to be healthy and safe and their risk assessment done properly.”

In the conservative media, the resistance fighters are portrayed as heroes. Fox’s Pete Hegseth greeted a woman who filmed herself in front of two health workers urging residents of a Los Angeles housing complex to get vaccinated and told them to leave the building. Dan Bell, a One America News host, invited a Republican congressman as a guest because he admired the politician’s refusal to respond to a “militant reporter” who asked him about his status vaccine.

Newsmax presenter Rob Schmitt questioned on July 9 if vaccinations went against nature.

“If there’s a disease out there, maybe there’s just an ebb and flow in life where something is supposed to wipe out a number of people, and that’s how it goes. evolution, ”he said. “Vaccines kind of get in the way of that. “

Since then, Newsmax and its founder, Chris Ruddy, have said he and the network strongly support Biden’s efforts to distribute the vaccine widely.

The impact of this message is difficult to measure. A Washington Post-ABC News poll in late June found that 86% of Democrats said they had been shot at least one bullet, compared to 45% of Republicans.

Prolonged exposure to media messages about vaccines has an impact on attitudes, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, who has researched the issue. But viewers are also predisposed to certain beliefs, and TV producers listen to what their viewers want to hear.

Urquiza said she believed many of the point-of-sale vaccine segments that were trying to reach the conservatives had less to do with medicine than with promoting a sense of grievance, which the government needs to relax. .

“They undermine confidence in the rescue measures,” she said. “It’s terrifying to watch.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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