A Florida talk radio host referred to himself as “Mr. Anti-Vax.” In Tennessee, a different conservative radio host recommended ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug, instead of vaccines. Both died of COVID-19 in recent weeks, joining a score of prominent coronavirus skeptics and vaccine critics to succumb to the virus.
“I’ve lost track, really, of the number of low-level Republican celebrities and conservative media figures who have been hospitalized or died during the pandemic in recent weeks,” Matt Gertz, senior fellow at Media Matters, tells co-hosts Asawin Suebsaeng and Kelly Weill on this week’s episode of The Daily Beast’s Fever Dreams podcast.
Gertz (who is not, as Twitter users believe, the same person as embattled congressman Matt Gaetz) joins us to discuss the conservative media world’s COVID-19 response. It’s worse than casual Fox News-watchers might realize.
“It is not in their interest to be praised by mainstream journalists,” Gertz says. “What happened to Sean Hannity was, after he was wrongly portrayed by journalists and pundits as encouraging vaccination, he started getting attacked from the right. He started getting shots from right-wing hosts who were telling their viewers, ‘Sean Hannity’s gone soft on us.’ And then he needed to furiously backpedal because he was afraid of losing control of his own audience. So he ends up on his radio show [and] on his Fox show saying, ‘I've never told anyone to get a vaccine.’”
Elsewhere in the episode, Suebsaeng and Weill discuss conservatives’ bloodlust for military action in—if not re-invasion of—Afghanistan.
“I feel like a lot of Trump’s perception, including when he was president, about what the American military can or can’t do is informed by what he has seen in any number of Rambo sequels,” Suebsaeng says.
Speaking of Rambo knockoffs, we check in on a testosterone salesman-turned-wannabe Pennsylvania politician who threatened to bring “20 strong men” to a school board meeting to “remove” board members over the district’s mask mandate. Threats like that are playing out in districts across the country, where school board members, many of them unpaid, are facing angry crowds, including people who don’t even have children enrolled at the schools.
Finally, Fever Dreams listeners might remember the saga of Tonka the chimpanzee, a friend of actor Alan Cumming and the subject of one of the weirdest legal battles in America. The case took a turn for the even weirder this week when one of its lawyers, who also represents 18 Capitol riot defendants, went AWOL. Although the circumstances remain murky, one of his associates claims the lawyer—a vocal anti-vaxxer—has contracted COVID.