Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters
Fox News has joined the right-wing attack against Sesame Street over a TV special that ran Saturday morning on CNN to help answer kids and parents' questions about getting vaccinated against COVID-19, which the CDC now recommends for children aged 5-11. Fox's attacks have just served to highlight the network's own ongoing hypocrisy — practicing safe pandemic policies internally while urging its audience to resist those measures as part of a destructive culture war.
Fox News has undermined the Biden administration's vaccination campaign relentlessly, running at least one claim that undermined vaccinations nearly every day in a six-month period. At the same time, the company has implemented stringent health policies for itself, including vaccination and testing mandates and masking at company offices — as well as at its corporate shareholder meeting.
The CNN special featured Muppet guests such as Big Bird, Grover, and others. Additionally, experts like Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett — the scientific lead for coronavirus vaccines at the National Institutes of Health — chimed in to answer questions from children around the country.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, also reminded young viewers, their parents, and his special guests that vaccines are nothing new for children: "You've been getting all kinds of vaccines since you were a little bird, probably."
On Friday night's edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, guest host Will Cain — a prolific anti-vaxxer — and New York Post columnist Karol Markowicz preemptively slammed the upcoming special. (Regular host Tucker Carlson has also spread misinformation about vaccine safety for children.)
"The truth is, if that show was real, Big Bird would be shamed right now for not having his — you know, vaccination yet and, 'How dare you?' So that's really the reality," Markowicz said. "I think that kids are going to be forced into it, and they're going to be shamed into it, and it's really unfortunate because they really don't need it."
"I think Big Bird would be more than shamed," Cain responded. "I think he would be fired very soon under — PBS is a federally, government-funded corporation. I'm pretty sure that qualifies under Joe Biden's orders. I think Big Bird is out of a job according to the new vaccine mandates."
Of course, Cain works for a company that has a stringent policy requiring its employees to either be vaccinated or test negative every day — and he still has his job.
The anti-vaccine messaging continued on Sunday's edition of Fox & Friends Weekend, featuring Cain along with co-hosts Rachel Campos-Duffy and Pete Hegseth. Campos-Duffy declared that "What's most disturbing is what we're seeing done to our kids," while denouncing Big Bird's appearance as "propaganda."
Hegseth chimed in: "Wait until — and they'll do it, because they're autocrats — wait until they attempt to mandate vaccines for kids."
Of course, public schools already have numerous vaccine mandates. And while Campos-Duffy has called for Americans to "fight back" against vaccine and testing policies, neither she nor anyone else on the Fox couch have quit their own jobs over their employer's policies.
On Monday morning, Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo highlighted a tweet from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who lambasted a message from the official Big Bird account as "Government propaganda…for your 5 year old!"
Bartiromo's guest Ryan Payne, president of Payne Capital Management, even got in a snide remark about vaccine efficacy: "I don't even think there's proof that, you know, the vaccine works on birds and puppets. I mean, there's no evidence that it would even work on a Big Bird or an Elmo."
More troubling, though, Payne added: "I'd hate to see your beloved characters from your youth being used for political agendas. It's just wrong."
And on Monday's edition of The Faulkner Focus, Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner highlighted tweets against the Big Bird vaccine push from not just Cruz, but also far-right troll and Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich.
Cernovich's tweet, which Faulkner read out loud, asked "What's the treatment for myocarditis in birds?" Myocarditis is a heart inflammation condition that has become a central component of a misinformation and scare campaign surrounding COVID-19 vaccination for children, because it could potentially be a rare side effect in young boys receiving the vaccine. On the other hand, it is also one of many potential side effects from having COVID-19 itself, which really puts things in perspective. (Faulkner's total failure to note such a thing was simply further proof that there is no difference at all between Fox's purported "straight news" and opinion sides.)
Faulkner also said: "I am curious to know what part of the government actually got involved with a 6-foot-7 fake yellow bird, telling children not to go to their pediatricians — their doctors, with their parents to work this out — but do exactly what the fake bird did. I mean, I think that's a fair question."
In fact, Big Bird has been helping children understand vaccines since the 1970s. But more importantly, the fact that distributing a vaccine to fight a disease that has killed over 750,000 Americans is somehow being branded as either a "political agenda," or subject to a "fair question," is really part of the problem.