Tucker Carlson on Tuesday night hosted former New York Times reporter and current coronavirus conspiracy theorist Alex Berenson on Tucker Carlson Tonight, which averages 3.2 million viewers a night and is the most-watched show on cable news.
Berenson was given free rein to spout his views on vaccines. “I think this is probably the most important appearance I’ve had with you in the past two years,” he said
“The mRNA COVID vaccines need to be withdrawn from the market now,” he went on. “No one should get them. No one should get boosted. No one should get double boosted. They are a dangerous and ineffective product at this point against Omicron.”
Alex Berenson tells Fox viewers: "The mRNA COVID vaccines need to be withdrawn from the market. No one should get them. No one should get boosted. No one should get double boosted. They are a dangerous and ineffective product at this point." pic.twitter.com/fq6fPSdafO
— nikki mccann ramírez (@NikkiMcR) January 26, 2022
Like all good misinformation, the core of what Berenson is saying isn’t wholly wrong. The current mRNA vaccines that most Americans have received are not as effective at preventing infection of the Omicron variant of Covid, compared to their effectiveness with previous strains. They are, however, more effective at preventing severe disease or hospitalization from Omicron, and are further improved by booster shots. This is relatively simple logic to understand if you read those two sentences one right after another. If you read only the first sentence and proceed to have an edge-of-tears meltdown on live TV while wildly grasping at other conspiracies and fear mongering, then, well, it’s a bit harder to conceptualize.
The hypocrisy behind all of this is that Tucker Carlson is almost certainly vaccinated. Tucker Carlson is not stupid. Whenever a journalist asks Tucker point blank if he is vaccinated, he dodges the question.
“Did you get vaccinated?” former Times columnist Ben Smith asked Carlson last summer.
“When was the last time you had sex with your wife and in what position?” Carlson replied. “We can trade intimate details.”
Carlson also works at a company, Fox News, where 90 percent of the staff are vaccinated.
Tucker’s brand, however, has long been at the forefront of vaccine skepticism and denialism. He first claimed that the early vaccine rollout in December 2020 “feels false, because it is. It’s too slick.” It makes sense, when you consider Tucker’s larger ideological project depends on casting as much doubt on the actions of the federal government as possible in order to break down his audience’s trust in centralized institutions as a whole. It has been incredibly successful.
Tucker as a person, of course, has an enormous amount of trust in centralized institutions. The American system has worked perfectly for him, an enormously privileged son connected to a TV-dinner dynasty (his father married the heir to the Swanson food brand). He has been a creature of Washington, D.C., for decades, molding his appearance and product to fit whatever moment will give him the most personal and ideological power. For the past few years, particularly under Trump, he’s seen enormous growth by doubling down on the most acute messages of paranoia and fear present on Fox News as a whole.
Berenson, therefore, is a tool in more ways than one. He’s a name that has become infamous in the Covid-counterculture, and therefore helps Carlson increase his audience’s distrust in the system that Carlson used to skyrocket to fame. The project is simple: If Carlson’s viewers stay sick and scared, they’ll never be able to challenge the system that keeps people like him at the top.