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'I Believe In The Science Of Vaccination': Fox Hosts Like Sean Hannity Change Tune

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Fox News has been one of the most prominent platforms for skeptics, even critics of the COVID vaccines. And yet in recent days, several Fox News personalities seem to have gone out of their way to affirm the importance of getting the vaccine. Today White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that administration officials have engaged Fox News execs over the matter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEN PSAKI: We understand also the importance of reaching Fox's audience about the COVID-19 vaccines and their benefits. And like we are with all of you here today, we, of course, are in regular contact.

KELLY: We are in contact right now with NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.

Hey, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So if we flipped on Fox News right now and they're talking COVID, what's the kind of thing we might hear?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, take what we heard last night. Sean Hannity has been a big fan of former President Trump, an adviser as well as anything else, a skeptic of this administration. But he went, as you suggested, out of his way to say, look. Let's pay attention to the science. Let's pay attention to what doctors have to say, your doctors have to say. Here's a brief clip of what he shared with viewers last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HANNITY")

SEAN HANNITY: And it absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated. I believe in science. I believe in the science of vaccination.

FOLKENFLIK: You heard similar things from folks like news anchor Bill Hemmer yesterday afternoon. You heard stuff on "Fox And Friends," which has been a place where - you know, has been hospitable to all kinds of conspiracy theories in recent years and some real skeptical stuff about the vaccine. Steve Doocy got into kind of a push-and-pull with his co-host Brian Kilmeade on "Fox And Friends." Doocy said, look. This saves lives. You know, 97% of those who are getting the disease now seem to be those who are not vaccinated or deaths anyway. Let's make sure that people get that. And as Kilmeade say, well, people, have to make choices, Doocy really drilled down and say, let's do that. So you could find these messages on Fox, which isn't always what you've been hearing on the network.

KELLY: Well, exactly. I mean, just to point out quite what the contrast is here for people who aren't maybe glued to Fox all day, what's been the more typical message from Fox News anchors?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, early on, you heard a lot of folks, including Sean Hannity, questioning the severity of the pandemic in the past, even using - questioning whether it was a hoax. Tucker Carlson to this day says, look; I'm not telling people to get it; I'm not telling people not to get it, and really yet seems to be soliciting people to come in and question the efficacy of the vaccines themselves.

But, you know, Hannity and Doocy have periodically shown up, cropped up in and said vaccines are important, seem to work. And yet it's in the context of - you know what? A Media Matters study, for example - it's a left-wing media watchdog - found that over a recent two-week period, 60% of Fox's segments cast doubt on the vaccines. And even in segments like Hannity's where they acknowledge it, it's wrapped in total anger against elites, against public health officials and against the administration for really urging people strongly to do it.

KELLY: So what's going on? Why the change in tone?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think there's a change in what's been happening at the nation at large. You've seen this huge spike, this latest wave, particularly in red states, where folks are often loyal FOX viewers. You've had a lot of folks calling Fox News hosts incredible hypocrites given what's happening at their parent company. What's that? Well, Fox Corp, the owner of Fox News, has itself its own policies that are pretty specific, encouraging people to get vaccines and precautions. It's a lot like what you get at the airport if you subscribe to the CLEAR program, which is that you get whisked in and you don't have to take a whole slew of precautions that you otherwise have to do if you can show that you've had the vaccine.

KELLY: And real quick, do we know anything more about the White House role here?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, CNN reported that there had been high-level discussions repeatedly in recent weeks. And both Fox and the White House kind of cast doubt on that. But clearly, Jen Psaki, the press secretary, and the White House are trying to engage Fox folks. They did so in May at the Washington bureau level to say, this is something that we really think the public messaging is important on.

KELLY: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: And periodically, Fox swings back to serving its audiences less...

KELLY: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: ...And serving the public's interest a little bit more.

KELLY: NPR's David Folkenflik. Thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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