Surgeon General Vivek Murthy stopped just short of outright saying Fox News is killing people with COVID-19 misinformation on Sunday, telling CNN that conservative media’s anti-vaccine rhetoric is “having a real cost that can be measured in lives lost.”
With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surging across the nation among the unvaccinated, prompting some areas to reimpose coronavirus restrictions and mask mandates, the White House sounded the alarm on the impact misinformation is having on the administration’s vaccination campaign and mitigation efforts.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, for instance, said last week that Facebook is not doing enough to push back against false claims on its platform, noting that prominent social media accounts responsible for the vast majority of anti-vaccine content all remained active on the platform. President Joe Biden took it even further.
“They're killing people -- I mean they're really, look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated,” he said on Friday. “And they're killing people.”
Murthy, for his part, issued an advisory last week that social media disinformation is a “serious threat to public health” and “American lives are at risk” due to the flood of anti-vax content. And with the Biden administration saying it’s pressing Facebook and others to crack down on disinformation, conservatives have cried foul, claiming this is an attack on free speech.
Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, Murthy doubled down on his warning about COVID-19 misinformation, pushing back on Facebook’s complaint that the White House is looking for a “scapegoat” amid rising coronavirus cases.
“My concern is that we’re not seeing nearly enough progress here,” the surgeon general said on Sunday. “And that’s one of the reasons I issued this advisory. It’s not entirely about the tech companies. I issued this advisory to call the entire country to action. Technology companies have an important role, particularly when it comes to being transparent with the public about how much misinformation is flowing in their sites.”
Anchor Dana Bash took that opportunity to note that while false claims about coronavirus have been prevalent on social media, right-wing media and Fox News have also consistently fearmongered about the safety and efficacy of vaccines for months now. (According to liberal media watchdog Media Matters, for example, nearly 60 percent of Fox News’ recent vaccination segments included claims that undermined vaccination efforts.)
“President Biden did accuse social media platforms of killing people,” Bash declared. “Do you think conservative media, like Fox News, are doing the same? Are they killing people, too, with the rhetoric you just heard?”
Carefully wording his response, Murthy noted that “all of us” have a responsibility to “share the truth” about what science and facts dictate about the virus and vaccines, adding that “we are going to ultimately put people at risk” if we don’t. At the same time, the surgeon general strongly suggested that right-wing media is costing lives by peddling anti-vaccine content.
“That is my great worry, Dana,” he sighed. “People all across our country, and I hear from folks all the time, who are struggling to make decisions about their health. After this very difficult year we’ve been through, people deserve to have access to accurate information.”
Murthy continued: “They deserve to hear that from their leaders, from the media. They deserve to see that on platforms online. They need that information to be able to make decisions to protect themselves and their families. That’s the least we can do for them. And my worry is that all of this is misinformation that’s floating around, it’s having a real cost that can be measured in lives lost and that is just tragic.”
While seemingly pointing the finger at conservative media personalities for contributing to the death rate among unvaccinated Americans, Murthy still did not go as far as the nation’s top infectious disease expert did over the weekend when it came to laying the blame at Fox’s feet.
“If we had had the pushback that we do on certain media, I don’t think it would have been possible at all not only to eradicate polio, we probably would still have smallpox, and we probably would still have polio in this country if we had the kind of false information that’s being spread now,” Dr. Anthony Fauci insisted on Saturday.