Washington (AFP) - Top US scientist Anthony Fauci on Saturday blasted commentators who sound an anti-vaccination theme, saying America might still be battling smallpox and polio if today's kind of misinformation existed back then. The comments from the country's leading infectious disease expert reflected mounting frustration over the sharp slowdown in the Covid-19 vaccination rate in the United States, even as the disease has been surging in states with low rates. It also came days after President Joe Biden expressed his own visible frustration, saying social media that carry widely heard mis...
Reprinted with permission from Alternet
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) blasted right-wing media outlets for "propaganda" he believes has influenced the widespread vaccine hesitancy contributing to the current uptick in COVID-19 cases.
On Thursday, July 15, Cox appeared for a news conference where he admitted to KUED News that he believes media outlets like Fox News and Newsmax, which have often questioned COVID-19 vaccine efficacy and safety, are not helping the situation. "I think it's harmful. It's certainly not helpful," Cox said.
For example, Newsmax primetime host Rob Schmitt recently argued that vaccines go "'against nature,' that some diseases are 'supposed to wipe out a certain number of people' and that 'vaccines kind of stand in the way of that,'" according to Newsweek.
However, Newsmax pushed back against that claim, telling The Washington Post that Schmitt's perspective was not shared by the network. Distancing from Schmitt's claim, the network also claimed it encourages the American public to get vaccinated.
"Medical professionals who have appeared on Newsmax have strongly encouraged Americans to get the vaccine," the spokesperson said. "From time to time, a guest or host may not be as supportive of these efforts. However, they do not reflect the position of Newsmax."
However, footage and reports suggest otherwise. A segment that recently aired on CNN featured "New Day" hosts John Berman and Brianna Keilar highlighting anti-vaccination footage and rhetoric. Media Matters also released a list of the most notable anti-vaccination quotes that aired on Fox News. The latest remarks from right-wing media have criticized the Biden administration's push for a door-to-door vaccine initiative to treat low-income Americans.
"If someone comes on my property, not always a good result," said Fox News' Jesse Watters, adding, "And I'm a lightweight. Think about the people in Texas."
Former White House Press Secretary and current Fox News host Kayleigh McEnany has also slammed the initiative describing it as "Orwellian." She said, "We cannot allow the government to seize on a COVID-19 outbreak to take our freedoms in this manner."
Cox also sounded off about news hosts and the irony of their remarks.
"We have these talking heads who have gotten the vaccine and are telling other people not to get it. That kind of stuff is dangerous, it's damaging, and it's killing people," Cox said.
The government is continuing its push to get as many Americans vaccinated as possible as case numbers begin to rise again.
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters
The White House has been stepping up its community outreach efforts for the coronavirus vaccines, with President Joe Biden announcing an effort to get ahead of emerging variants in a speech on July 6. But at the same time as many public health experts say there should be even more stringent requirements for people to get vaccinated, right-wing media outlets are instead waging their own scare campaign against even the community outreach, continuing their shameful record of undermining the vaccination campaigns.
Polling data has shown that Republican voters are far less likely than Democrats to even want to get the vaccines, seriously contributing to the country having missed Biden's goal for 70 percent of adults to have been vaccinated by July 4. (Most of the states that fell short were won by former President Donald Trump in 2020, while the states that have surpassed the goal were all won by Biden.)
But conservative media figures have quickly seized on one particular line from Biden's speech on Tuesday, in which he appealed to people to get vaccinated as "a patriotic thing to do."
"Now we need to go to community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, and oftentimes, door to door — literally knocking on doors — to get help to the remaining people protected from the virus," Biden said. "Look, equity, equality — it remains at the heart of our responsibility of ensuring that communities that are the hardest hit by the virus have the information and the access to get vaccinated."
Now, right-wing media is engaged in a dishonest and irresponsible spin operation, warning people that the government is coming to get them with the vaccine.
Saving Lives With Vaccine Is 'Worse Than The Iraq War'
Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson, who has led a propaganda campaign in concert with anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists and with Fox's full corporate support, fear-mongered about Biden's speech during his program on Tuesday night.
Following a segment in which he claimed the pandemic had been "overhyped "because most deaths occurred in the elderly — though this argument also disregarded other adverse effects associated with "long COVID" — Carlson warned anyone who might come knocking to promote the vaccine to "stay the hell out of my house, for real." Carlson then claimed that a door-to-door vaccine promotion campaign was a "much bigger" scandal than even the Iraq War.
TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): So, because this disease -- the median age in Ohio of death is 80, your 15-year-old needs to have Joe Biden's health authority show up at your house with a needle. I mean, I don't — this is the — I think — I honestly think it's the greatest scandal in my lifetime by far. I thought the Iraq War was, it seems much bigger than that.
The idea that you would force people to take medicine they don't want or need, is there a precedent for that in our lifetimes?
BRIT HUME (FOX NEWS SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST): Well, look to be fair, it seems to me that what they're doing is — what their argument would be, Tucker, that what they're trying to do is make it as easy as possible for people to get the vaccine and, for people who are hesitant, to perhaps encourage them that they have nothing to fear. However, you know, vaccines do have side effects.
This after all is not yet an FDA-approved medicine. This is operating under a temporary use — a temporary emergency-use authorization. Perhaps it will in the future be authorized, fully authorized by the FDA, fully approved. But it's not yet, and if people — it seems to me, if people are hesitant to take it, particularly if they're not in the vulnerable category, it seems to me that's not an unreasonable thing and should be respected.
So that's what I would have to say about that.
CARLSON: Yeah, not letting kids get education if they're not vaccinated. Pretty amazing.
Fox's far-right competitors were not to be outdone Tuesday night, either. One America News warned its viewers that "the Biden administration is threatening to send political operatives to the homes of people who refuse to take an experimental COVID vaccine." Newsmax host Grant Stinchfield declared, "Hey, Joe, how about no — and I'm the guy that steps out onto my porch and calmly asks you to get off my lawn," even as Stinchfield capped off a defense of people refusing the "vaccine Kool-Aid" being pushed by both government agencies and businesses.
Shouldn't We Give Trump Credit For The Vaccine?
During a Wednesday morning panel discussion, however, it was disgraced former MSNBC analyst and Newsmax contributor Mark Halperin who reminded other conservative commentators that they ought to be promoting the vaccines on behalf of former President Trump.
"I think this is the depth of partisan lunacy," Halperin told former Trump administration staffer Hogan Gidley, who had been denouncing the "government overreach" of the vaccination campaigns and defending people for not trusting the expert advice.
"With all due respect to Hogan — Hogan, who developed the vaccine?" asked Halperin. "Your former boss, President Trump doesn't get nearly enough credit for what he did to unshackle the administration and the regulation and allowed these private-sector companies to go forward. The vaccines are, by historical standards, effective and safe, and everybody should get them. If people don't want to get them, it's their choice, but everybody should get them."
People "Up In Arms" — According To Fox & Friends
Meanwhile, the manufactured outrage continued on Fox & Friends, with co-host Ainsley Earhardt declaring: "People are up in arms about this, because we as Americans can make our own choices for our own families, for our own bodies. And when someone's knocking at your door with a vaccine — are they going to have the shot in their hand? Or are they going to encourage you to go, ask you questions like the Census Bureau does?"
Co-host Brian Kilmeade also warned of negative side effects from the vaccines.
"More and more people are saying — I'm not saying it's an epidemic and a problem — but no one addresses the fact that there are some people having negative reactions," Kilmeade said, discussing worries about vaccine requirements being imposed for sports at his own daughters' schools.
"How scary is that for you as a parent," Earhardt said, "because you're hearing all these kids that are having heart problems, inflammation."
Despite what Kilmeade and Earhardt said, media outlets and experts are indeed addressing these questions: The New York Times reported in late June that researchers had "estimated that out of a million second doses given to boys ages 12 to 17, the vaccines might cause a maximum of 70 myocarditis cases, but would prevent 5,700 infections, 215 hospitalizations and two deaths."
In a later segment, Fox News medical correspondent Dr. Marc Siegel — who had previously downplayed the pandemic and publicly supported various missteps by Trump — attempted to play a political game of gotcha: "I don't think we have to allow Biden on our door with a syringe yet and say here's a vaccine — after he doubted the vaccine to begin with." (Siegel appeared to be referring to statements Biden made during the 2020 campaign, saying he would trust scientists on the vaccine but not Trump's promises to have a vaccine distributed in time before the election.)
Knocking On Doors "Goes To The Core Of Our Country"
And during America's Newsroom on Wednesday, co-anchor Dana Perino spoke with Fox medical contributor Dr. Nicole Saphier, with the two actually talking about the importance of educating the public about vaccines — but Saphier argued that the appearance of compulsion and being "confrontational" about it would go against "the core of our country."
DANA PERINO (CO-ANCHOR): I also noted today, in The Washington Post it said in Maryland, 100 people died of COVID in June in Maryland — and 100% of them were unvaccinated. And that was one of the things that the president was trying to say yesterday, I suppose.
DR. NICOLE SAPHIER (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): Well, and that's not just Maryland, that's many states across the country, and other countries are seeing that as well. Yes, the deaths that are still occurring from SARS-Cov2 tend to be those that are unvaccinated. So, the best way to protect people is to get vaccinated.
But again, this is a freedom of choice, and that is what is very important. It goes to the core of our country. When you turn on other media outlets, you actually hear people calling for requiring them -- and mandates. And if — you can't declare independence and the freedom to choose vaccination and then require them as well and say we're going to be sending government officials. These are conversations that need to be had between physicians and patients and not by low-level grassroots people knocking on doors.
Mollie Hemingway: Just Stop Trying — And Declare It A "Win"
Co-anchor Bill Hemmer spoke later in the program with Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway, who has spent much of the pandemic era undermining public efforts around mask-wearing and previously denounced Biden's July 4 goal as "just so un-American." So it might seem odd that Hemingway was brought on by a purported "news side" program to discuss the matter at all.
This time around, Hemingway's advice was for Biden to essentially "take the win" by moving his own goalposts.
MOLLIE HEMINGWAY (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): More importantly, vaccine — vaccination rates among the vulnerable populations, older people and people with comorbidities, is really high. And so, President Biden needs to just take the win. I know he missed his own personal goal for vaccination rates, but we've done a good job, and he should accept that and keep going forward.
BILL HEMMER (CO-ANCHOR): We can still get there, probably get there pretty soon actually.
Fox's "Straight News" And Opinion Hosts Push Same Scare Campaign
On Wednesday's edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum, guest anchor Trace Gallagher opened a segment by likening "door-to-door vaccine pushers" to door-to-door salesmen. Gallagher then ended a discussion with Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Will Cain by quoting an old line from Ronald Reagan about being afraid of the government — sounding remarkably similar to a tweet sent by a right-wing U.S. representative about an hour-and-a-half earlier.
TRACE GALLAGHER (FOX NEWS ANCHOR): Yup. Ronald Reagan once said, "The government's at your door saying, 'We're here to help.' And that's when —
WILL CAIN (CO-HOST, Fox & Friends Weekend): The scariest thing you could hear. Right?
CAIN: That's right.
Things only got worse that night. In a segment titled "Power Grabs & Needle Jabs," Laura Ingraham connected the vaccination campaign to the conspiracy theory of "global resetters" purportedly involved in COVID-19 public health protocols, and praised Americans for "wising up" by refusing the vaccines. (The monologue also featured a cartoonish visual of Biden holding a needle to a crying baby. Just to be clear, the COVID-19 vaccines have thus far been recommended for children ages 12 and up, not for infants.)
LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): Every day, the barbarity of the left's COVID lockdowns and school closures becomes more apparent. The great global resetters, who love seeing us shut in and shut up, who were fine with seeing our economy destroyed, and even turning kids into screen zombies. The political forces that exploited health fears, the medical officials who became stars by helping them, and the media that covered for them all. All of them should be held accountable.
Now, it took a while, but Americans are wising up to this charade. Yet, despite everything the experts either got wrong or lied about, they still think that parents should trust them and inject their kids with an experimental drug to prevent a disease almost none of those kids will ever get sick from.
Going door-to-door? This is creepy stuff. You know, someone comes up to your door, outside wearing a mask, showing up at your house, claiming to work for the government, asking you personal medical questions. What could possibly go wrong there?
By the way, are these government vaccine ambassadors going to ask people about their vaccine status? What sort of notes will they take on each door-to-door encounter? And what will be done with those notes? How will this information be used? These are all important questions that bear directly on matters of personal medical privacy.
And on Fox & Friends, Kilmeade warned again: "They're going to be knocking on your doors, I guess with a cotton ball and a needle, and they're going to look to put a needle into your deltoid — stop asking questions."
Kilmeade then responded to a video of Dr. Anthony Fauci the night before on MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes, urging people to "get over this political statement" of not taking the vaccine, and instead to "try and save the lives of yourself and your family."
Kilmeade then got nearly to the same point that Halperin did the day before: "How about saying, 'I just have to underline the fact that this vaccine was driven by the Trump administration, and conducted by and pushed forward by Operation Warp Speed. It was put together by the previous administration, and implemented by this one.' As much as they want you vaccinated, they are determined not to let you know who came up with it."
In response, though, Earhardt continued to warn of harmful side effects from the vaccines, and then Hegseth cued up a video clip from Ingraham's show the night before, in which a guest claimed that "no one under age of 30" should get the vaccines.
So it appears that right-wing media have arrived at a new resolution of competing ideas: The vaccines are one of the great accomplishments of the Trump administration, for which Trump is being denied his personal credit — and they are also very dangerous, and people shouldn't take them.
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters
Facebook removed an anti-vaccine group that had already amassed more than 125,000 members, but this move will only minorly inconvenience the group, as members had already set up alternate channels of communication. What's more, this group is only one of over 100 active Facebook groups that contain harmful anti-vaccine misinformation.
On April 22, Facebook removed a large private group dedicated to gathering stories of people allegedly injured by the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the company, the group was removed because it had violated Facebook's harmful misinformation policies. A spokesperson told BBC News, "We allow people to discuss the COVID-19 vaccines but if information could lead to someone being harmed, we remove it."
On its face this seems like a step in the right direction for a platform that has been negligent in its response to dangerous COVID-19 misinformation. However, the group amassed more than 125,000 followers before it was taken down, and they are already successfully reorganizing, setting up a Telegram group and a new social media platform.
The removed group, COVID 19 VACCINE VICTIMS AND FAMILIES, was created on March 29, 2021, and its "About" section stated, "The idea of this group is for victims families to unite and for the victims stories to be heard so we can get justice." The group grew rapidly, particularly in the four days before removal, when it gained an average of over 12,500 members per day. Members would share anecdotes about friends and relatives receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and falling ill, claiming the vaccine was the cause.
Before the Facebook takedown, group members began expressing concerns about possible removal and preparing to organize in other spaces. Invites to a Telegramgroup, set up on April 5, are still prominently displayed on Facebook, with instructions for users to join the channel in order to circumvent Facebook action. On April 18, the group created a new social media platform, modeled after Facebook but explicitly for "vaccine victims." That same day, a Facebook user posted that the group had been "suspended" but said, "I think you can still join the fb group and read the stories before it's removed." The group has also launched a new Facebook group, under a pseudonym. In less than a day, the new group gained roughly 1,100 members, and at the time of publishing, it has roughly 4,000 members.
Despite Facebook's action against the private group COVID19 VACCINE VICTIMS AND FAMILIES, there is still ample anti-vaccine misinformation on the platform. Media Matters has identified 117 additional anti-vaccine Facebook groups that are still active on the platform. The roughly 275,000 members of these groups are exposed to harmful anti-vaccine content, and as nearly 80% of these groups are private, it is more difficult for Facebook to moderate them.
Of these 117 groups, some explicitly call themselves "anti-vaxx" or "anti-vaccine," while others have similar names as the group Facebook removed. Some groups are likely trying to avoid moderation by using more deceptive language, such as "V@xynes" or "V@ccine."
The three biggest groups, with tens of thousands of members each, are plagued with vaccine misinformation, other COVID-19 misinformation, and conspiracy theories.
Vaccine Education Network : Natural Health Anti-Vaxx Community
This private group with roughly 41,800 members promotes misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine, including false claims that the vaccine will cause serious medical problems:
MTHFR Connections: Tongue Ties, Autism, V@xynes, Leaky Gut
This private group with roughly 27,700 members is dedicated to pushing a baseless claim that the MTHFR gene causes a harmful reaction to the vaccine. Members in the group promote this baseless claim and provide each other with medical misinformation. Egregious examples include:
JUST FOR THE HELLTH OF IT
With roughly 18,000 members, this private group promotes misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine and conspiracy theories, and it even has screenshots of posts from the anti-vaccine group that Facebook removed:
Facebook relies on the idea that things will inevitably slip through the cracks to excuse its weak moderation efforts. Vice president of integrity Guy Rosen ended a March blog post about misinformation by noting that Facebook's "enforcement will never be perfect" and that "nobody can eliminate misinformation from the internet entirely." However, as this example shows, Facebook groups are frequently not relying on subtlety when broadcasting to followers where to find anti-vaccine misinformation — on the platform and off. Anti-vaccine misinformation on Facebook is not buried, and the way anti-vaccine advocates evade moderation is not a secret. Facebook's poor content moderation is inexcusable, and although the removal of one larger group is a good first step, this latest lackluster effort is not a replacement for sufficient moderation.
Research contributions from Carly Evans and Kellie Levine
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