While Joe Biden jabbed Fox News last week over its flip-flopping vaccine coverage, White House press secretary Jen Psaki asserted on Monday that the administration is not interested in a “fight” with the network. Instead, Psaki noted that the president wishes to work with Fox News in the hopes that its still-unvaccinated viewers can be persuaded. The White House spokesperson, who made the remarks during an appearance on the Snapchat news show Good Luck America, went on to explain why the White House is sending surrogates to appear on Fox News, even as the network dedicates much of its programming to attacking Biden and spreading vaccine misinformation. “Getting in a fight with Fox News at this point in time for the administration isn’t particularly constructive coming off of an administration that completely destroyed trust in media, trust in institutions,” Psaki said. “That’s not the fight we want to fight right now, right? We want to fight a fight about getting the pandemic under control and things that actually impact people’s lives.”
But she did include an asterisk, saying that White House officials don’t often appear on Fox’s airwaves during the hours hosted by the network’s opinion stars—some of whom are responsible for spreading egregious vaccine misinformation to large TV audiences. “Well first, we don’t do a lot of the [prime-time] personalities on Fox,” Psaki said. “The president’s number one goal still is beating the pandemic, our objective is to put people back to work, and we need to talk to Fox and Fox viewers in order to do that.” She continued: “You need to be able to speak through a range of formats in order to reach the public—that’s your objective…. It also means doing a range of platforms that may not like the president…. But that’s okay. Our job is not only to talk to people who like us.” In comments that Psaki made during a recent press briefing, she told reporters that the White House is in contact with Fox News—along with the other, more agreeable major outlets—to discuss vaccine coverage.
The Biden administration appears to be taking a different approach with Fox News than his Democratic White House predecessor, as the Obama team went to war with the conservative network in its first year. “We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent,” Anita Dunn, former Obama White House communications director (and until recently a top Biden adviser), told The New York Times in 2009, adding: “We don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.” Though Psaki hasn’t been shy about knocking down some lines of inquiry from Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy, the press secretary signaled in the Snapchat interview that the administration is hoping to change minds.
That still won’t be easy as Fox News viewers appear less likely than those tuning in to other networks to get the shot. According to new polling data accumulated by Axios/Ipsos, 62% of adult respondents who listed Fox News as their primary source for news acknowledged that they have received at least one dose in the COVID-19 vaccination process. Meanwhile, the poll found that 70% of all adult respondents have received one dose, which puts the vaccination rate of Fox News viewers a step below. “Just 62% of people who use Fox News as their main news source have at least one dose,” said CNN reporter Henry Enten while breaking down the data on Monday. “Compare that to ABC, CBS, NBC, 79%. Or this network and MSNBC, 83%. So, what we see is about 20 points less of the Fox News audience has been vaccinated compared to the people who get their news from say, some other television outlet.”
On Sunday, Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz pushed back on this narrative, accusing “Fox’s rivals” of being in a “frenzy [to blame] this network” for the recent surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths across the U.S. “But,” Kurtz said, “there are a lot of voices on Fox News Channel and many, including me, including the anchors, who just made a second pro-vaccination PSA, [who] want the tens of millions of holdouts to get the COVID shots, and that includes these conservative hosts.
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