On vaccines, deliberate ignorance shouldn’t be treated the same as hesitance

Coddling delusions doesn’t make them go away, it makes them stronger
Photo: Taras Chernus/Unsplash

First published at Press Run

As the United States careens towards its third Covid-19 surge, driven entirely by Americans who refuse to get vaccinated, the press continues to portray the selfish, partisan dead-enders as misguided and merely reluctant.

The coverage stems from a five-year media crusade to normalize Trump supporters and constantly extend “sympathy.” Today, that means coddling the offenders, especially white, Southern ones, who are infecting communities by refusing to take a miraculously safe and effective vaccine that’s been available for eight months.

The press needs to stop portraying those at the heart of anti-vaccine mania as regular folk who just need a friendly nudge. (80 percent say they’ll never get the shot.) Instead, they’re part of a selfish movement that threatens our national security.

And stop calling them “vaccine hesitant,” “vaccine-reluctant,” or “vaccine skeptics.” That implies logical thought processes, that these people can be convinced via soothing tones, and that there’s a lucid element at play. My hunch is 5-10 percent of Americans are “vaccine hesitant” in the traditional sense. The rest are conspiratorial Trump loyalists — the same ones who claim he beat Joe Biden in a landslide last year. They’re part of a deep-pocketed political and media crusade determined to keep the pandemic going and gladly risking infections.

That’s not how they’re usually portrayed in the press.

“America Is Getting Unvaccinated People All Wrong,” The Atlantic lamented, urging renewed efforts to “persuade them.” A Washington Post headline announced, “The GOP’s Very Stubborn Vaccine Skepticism,” which offered a polite description — they’re just being “stubborn” and skeptical.

While coddling refusers, the New York Times’s Ross Douthat insists, “In a polarized landscape with widely distrusted institutions, a more patient approach seems much more civically healthy.” As if a patient and civic approach hasn’t been tried all this year by public health officials.

The conservative National Review recently complained that “Proponents of the vaccine are unwilling or unable to understand the thinking of vaccine skeptics.”


Worse, the dead-enders are sometimes disappeared by the media. On Sunday’s front page, the Post published a piece about how the resurging virus is “threatening to subsume President Biden’s agenda.” Barely mentioned in the story was the fact that Republicans nationwide are driving the surge by refusing to inoculate themselves.

And when Politico over the weekend reported that many Southerners “are turning down Covid-19 vaccines because they are angry that President Donald Trump lost the election and sick of Democrats in Washington thinking they know what’s best,” the incomprehensible logic was treated matter-of-factly, like Politico was announcing conservatives oppose higher taxes.

Today’s babying of right-wingers comes after journalists recently mocked liberals for still wearing masks when the CDC said it was no longer necessary for those who were vaccinated, belittling progressives as “pandemic addicts,” calling them “irrational” and “odd.”  The Atlantic ridiculed them as “The Liberals Who Can’t Quit Lockdown.”

Meanwhile, the pandemic gains new potency.

“Folks [are] supposed to have common sense. But it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks,” Governor Kay Ivey, a Republican, told reporters in Birmingham, Ala.

How is it that a Republican governor is (belatedly) being more honest and direct than much of the mainstream media when discussing the state of vaccine dead-enders, and the extraordinary toll they’re taking on the pandemic-fatigued country?

This is a movement of people who number in the tens of millions who over the last year have loudly clamored that the virus was nothing to fear, but the vaccine today is. (Ponder that contrast.) For the vast majority, it’s likely a lost cause and for the simple reason that they’ve been brainwashed — not a word the Beltway media likes to use while describing Trump voters. (This excellent Financial Times piece does not shy away.)

Thanks to a burgeoning and profitable misinformation industry, the same one that lied about Hillary Clinton’s emails and the 2020 election being “stolen,” a huge swath of Trump followers believe the vaccine:

  • Alters your DNA.
  • Implants a microchip.
  • Is deadly.

Then there’s the QAnon element, which lots of mainstream news outlets skim over with regard to the vaccine, reluctant to tie the GOP and conservatives to a manic cult movement.

But as HuffPost noted, it’s a driving force behind the vaccine stone wall:

As the coronavirus swept across the U.S., so did QAnon, with anti-vaccine hysteria emerging center stage in its extraordinary fear-mongering campaign. The far-right conspiracy theory movement hinges upon the belief that former President Donald Trump has quietly been at war against an omnipotent cabal of “deep-state” pedophiles who do all kinds of wicked things — from eating children to unleashing a highly infectious virus to manufacture a global need for a secretly deadly vaccine.

After the terror attacks of 9/11 when there developed a misguided movement among some on the left to deny the reality of the event — to claim President George W. Bush knew about the planned strikes and allowed them to happen for geo-political reasons — do you remember journalists rushing in to say how the country needed to hear the 9/11 Truthers out? Was there a media coddling movement designed to portray conspiracy peddlers as being slightly confused Americans?

Vaccine dead-enders are a cancer on this country, and the press ought to treat them that way.