Fox host Tucker Carlson hosted anti-vaxxer and conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for a fawning interview on his Fox Nation show Tucker Carlson Today. Kennedy is a well-known figure in anti-vaccine circles and one of the most prominent backers of baseless conspiracy theories attempting to link conditions such as autism to vaccines.
During the November 15 interview, Carlson urged viewers to purchase Kennedy’s latest book, a screed accusing Dr. Anthony Fauci of intentionally bungling the pandemic, killing alternatives to the vaccine, and launching an assault on the First Amendment in order to silence critics. Kennedy walked Carlson’s audience through a grab bag of his most notorious conspiracy theories, at one point asserting his belief that vaccines had to be one of the “key suspects” behind the rise in cases of autism.
From time to time, Carlson and other personalities assert that they are not against all vaccines, they are simply asking questions about the COVID vaccines. Kennedy’s lengthy appearances reveals that to be just another Fox lie. Kennedy is providing explicit anti-vaccine propaganda to Fox Nation viewers while at the same time the streaming platform is requiring proof of vaccination for attendees of its new “Patriot Awards.”
Kennedy has used the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines as a springboard for his messaging, including on social media. His multiple Facebook pages thrive, despite claims by the platform that it is removing misinformation regarding COVID-19. As explained by my colleague Tim Johnson:
The uneven enforcement can also be seen in Facebook’s treatment of Kennedy. On February 11, The New York Times reported that Kennedy’s page on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, was removed for violating policies against spreading misinformation about vaccines. As the Times noted, the enforcement action “did not include Mr. Kennedy’s Facebook page, which was still active as of early Thursday and makes many of the same baseless claims to more than 300,000 followers,” and Facebook said “that there were no plans to take down Mr. Kennedy’s Facebook account ‘at this time.’”
Kennedy operates two pages on Facebook that post similar anti-vaccine falsehoods. One page -- “Robert F. Kennedy, Jr” -- is listed as an “environmental conservation organization” and has more than 300,000 followers. Kennedy’s other page is for his anti-vaccine nonprofit organization, Children’s Health Defense. That page has nearly 150,000 followers and is allowed by Facebook to list itself as a “medical & health” organization.
Kennedy is partially responsible for the majority of anti-vaccine advertising on Facebook. A 2019 study found that Children's Health Defense (formerly the World Mercury Project) and an organization called Stop Mandatory Vaccination were together responsible for more than 54% of anti-vaccine advertisements on the platform.
Despite the clear danger vaccine misinformation poses to the public, this is not the first time Fox has rebroadcast Kennedy’s claims. In February of this year, Fox host Laura Ingraham hosted Kennedy on her podcast, and the pair accused Fauci of colluding with pharmaceutical companies to hide dangers related to the COVID-19 vaccine, and the dangers of vaccines in general, claims that were echoed in his interview with Carlson.
Carlson, Fox News, and the Murdochs seem determined to endanger their audience. The broadcasting of Kennedy’s clear-cut anti-vaccine messaging undermines Carlson’s claims that his concerns regarding the COVID-19 vaccine are about issues of civil rights. And even as Fox News feeds its audience false claims that vaccines are untested, ineffective, and may cause autism, the network is protecting its hosts and employees by requiring the vaccines and health screenings they demonize on a nightly basis.