Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham Run Wild With Debunked Claim on COVID Deaths

·6-min read
Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty
Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty

When it comes to Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, apparently no amount of factual reporting can get in the way of pushing a misleading narrative—even when that reporting comes from their own Fox News colleagues.

Hours after Fox News essentially debunked a misleading claim about COVID-19 deaths that had made its way through the conservative media ecosystem, the two primetime TV stars peddled the misinformation anyway.

Throughout Monday, right-wing media and GOP politicians ran wild with a short video clip of CDC Director Rochelle Walensky supposedly saying that the vast majority of all coronavirus deaths were among people with at least four comorbidities. According to the usual conservative firebrands, the video showed Walensky admitting that the threat of COVID-19 had been exaggerated from the start.

Conservative radio host Clay Travis, who has long downplayed the severity of the pandemic, kicked off the fake news feeding frenzy by posting the video in a viral tweet, which has been retweeted nearly 20,000 times. Eventually, the Republican National Committee and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) joined in and shared the clip on social media. (Cruz has since deleted his tweet.)

The 11-second snippet that was widely shared across Twitter, however, was of course, devoid of context that would instantly negate the narrative right-wing media stars had used it to push.

The clip was taken from a Friday morning interview on ABC’s Good Morning America in which Walensky was actually referring to a recent CDC study showing just how wildly effective COVID-19 vaccines had been in terms of preventing deaths.

One of the issues at play—and perhaps why Walensky’s response was taken easily completely out of context—is that GMA edited the CDC director’s response to anchor Cecilia Vega’s question during the broadcast.

“I want to ask you about those encouraging headlines that we’re talking about this morning, this new study showing just how well vaccines are working to prevent severe illness,” Vega asked. “Given that, is it time to start rethinking how we’re living with this virus, that it’s potentially here to stay?”

In the segment that aired, this was Walensky’s response: “The overwhelming number of death, over 75 percent, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities. So really, these are people who were unwell to begin with. And yes, really encouraging news in the context of omicron. This means not only just to get your primary series but to get your booster series, and yes, we’re really encouraged by these results.”

While Walensky’s comments that aired on Friday did not directly reference the study about vaccinated people, GMA included an on-air graphic noting that the CDC chief was talking about vaccine effectiveness. Furthermore, there was still enough context to tie it back to that study, as conservative writer Allahpundit noted on Monday afternoon.

“Out of 1.2 million vaccinated people, just 36 died,” the influential blogger wrote. “That’s .003 percent, a phenomenal survival rate. Of those 36, slightly more than three-quarters had four comorbidities. Which is to say, even if you have three comorbidities, getting vaxxed all but guarantees that you won’t die if you’re infected.”

While also reporting on Walensky’s “confusing” remarks on Monday, Fox News Digital editor David Rutz included an on-the-record response from the CDC itself that provided the context for Walensky’s remarks clear, noting that she was specifically discussing the study.

Finally, around 6 p.m. ET, ABC News posted the full unedited clip of Walensky’s interview to YouTube, which included these additional remarks in her response: “You know, really important study, if I may just summarize it, a study of 1.2 million people who were vaccinated between December [2020] and October [2021] and demonstrated that severe disease occurred in about .0015 percent of the people who are—received their primary series and death in .003 percent of those people.”

By the time Fox News star Tucker Carlson’s show hit the air at 8 p.m. ET, it had become abundantly clear that the CDC director wasn’t claiming 75 percent of all COVID-19 deaths were among those with at least four comorbidities. But that didn’t stop Carlson from pushing that line as gospel.

After claiming he had emails from Trump administration officials that questioned the inclusion of certain deaths among COVID-19 casualties—a “long-standing line of rhetoric” that Washington Post reporter Philip Bump noted has been “easily debunked”—the far-right primetime host then took aim at Walensky, using her out-of-context comments.

“Now, over a year later, with Trump safely out of office, the CDC is publicly acknowledging: Yeah, they lied,” he seethed.

Carlson, who Fox News’ own lawyers have argued in court should not be taken literally or seriously, continued to point to those comments as broader proof that a large portion of COVID-19 deaths in this country have been exaggerated or largely unrelated to the virus.

Furthermore, as Bump also reported, there is no “lie” when it comes to the notion that the CDC has been lying about the impact of the virus on those with comorbidities. In fact, it not only has been well-known since the early days of the pandemic that older and less healthy people are more at risk from the virus, but the CDC has been tracking data on the impact of comorbidities since at least May 2020.

Two hours later, Fox News host Laura Ingraham—another star at the network who has routinely understated the dangers of the virus—continued to push the deceptively edited Walensky comments to claim that the CDC had finally acknowledged that COVID-19 deaths were overblown.

“Though there was some good news. Walensky was forced to make two embarrassing admissions over the weekend, first on the question of who is really dying from COVID,” Ingraham said before airing the viral snippet.

“Again, we were talking about this nearly two years ago,” the Fox host added, airing another clip of a guest of hers from 2020 saying only those with comorbidities were getting “seriously ill.”

Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether or not Carlson and Ingraham will issue corrections.

Though the network hasn’t officially commented, Fox News chief political anchor Bret Baier did “clarify” Walensky’s remarks on Tuesday afternoon.

“Another soundbite out there we should clarify that 75 percent, she said, Walensky said, 75 percent of those who died had four co-morbidities, very ill going in,” Baier said on America’s Report. “That soundbite is where she is talking about vaccinated people.”

He added: “The soundbite was from prior, she was talking about vaccinated people and she had those stats. So, listen. We have to get the numbers right, we have to be able to say what it is.”

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