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UPDATED, with additional Biden comments: President Joe Biden, participating in his second CNN town hall since taking office, suggested that Fox News hosts have had a recent “altar call” by now promoting vaccinations as opposed to skepticism.
Biden suggested that he was “feeling better” because “one of those other networks is not a big fan of mine,” but “if you notice, as they say in the southern part of my state, they have had an altar call, some of those guys. All of the sudden they are out there saying, ‘Let’s get vaccinated. Let’s get vaccinated.’ They very people before this were saying…” The president stopped himself.
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“I shouldn’t make fun of this. That’s good. It’s good. We just have to keep telling the truth.”
On Monday, Fox News host Sean Hannity told viewers: “I believe in science, I believe in the science of vaccinations. But I’m not a doctor. I’ve been pressured to tell people what to do. I’m telling people this: I want my audience to live. I don’t want anyone dying from this thing. It’s dangerous, take it seriously.” Earlier in the day, Fox & Friends co-host told viewers, “If you have the chance, get the shot, it will save your life.” As Covid-19 cases rise among the unvaccinated, there has been a renewed focus on misinformation and the role that conservative commentators have played in feeding public doubt and mistrust. During the same hour of the CNN town hall, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson had as a guest Charlie Kirk, a vaccine skeptic who has engaged in wild speculation about deaths of people after they got the shot.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) took to the Senate floor last week and singled out Carlson and Laura Ingraham for feeding skepticism about the vaccines, calling them “anti-vax quacks.”
A Fox News spokesperson has defended the network’s coverage, pointing to instances going back to January where network personalities have encouraged vaccinations, along with a PSA featuring hosts and anchors. Carlson and Ingraham also hit back at Durbin, with Ingraham calling him a “windbag.”
When it comes to misinformation, the White House’s media focus initially has been on Facebook and other platforms. At the town hall, Biden again clarified that when he referred to Facebook as “killing people” because of the spread of misinformation, he was talking about a study showing just 12 individuals being responsible for a vastly disproportionate amount of disinformation.
At the Cincinnati town hall, Biden said, “What we are trying to do is use every avenue we can to try to get the facts out.”
Update: After the town hall, Biden told reporters of Fox News hosts’ push for vaccinations, “I thank them for it.”
“I don’t know how many of them believed what they were saying. They may have really believed it, the things that they’ve been saying.”
He added, “I think once the realization occurred that this virus is only killing primarily those who had not been vaccinated, I think it was sort of, as we Catholics say, a bit of an epiphany for them. It was like a … conversation on the way to Damascus or something. But I think it became real … and I’m glad they had the courage to say what they said. And hopefully it will have some impact.”
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