July 19, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

How do we solve a problem like ‘vaccine skeptics’? Stop respecting their excuses for bad behavior

We've tried respect. It didn't work.

How do we solve a problem like 'vaccine skeptics'? Stop respecting their excuses for bad behavior

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CNN’s Henry Enten is at a loss for words.

Henry Enten used to be a very fine writer for FiveThirtyEight before he became a talking head for CNN. I don’t hold that against him, though. He’s a number-cruncher. In this day and age, we need number-crunchers. And we need them to do more than crunch numbers. We need them to throw up their hands on television in absolute exasperation for the fools who refuse to get a free vaccination for their own good.

“This is insane,” Enten said Friday on CNN’s morning show, “New Day.” “Just .8 percent of those who died in June were fully vaccinated. Look at that—99.2 percent were unvaccinated.” Enten went on to say: “My goodness gracious, could you find a clearer statistic than this, that the vaccines work? I don’t believe you can. This is why it’s so important for folks to get vaccinated. We know they work and this number clearly, clearly shows it. … Folks, get vaccinated. My God. My God! I run out of words, because it’s just so clear and people are being just so freaking silly. It works. Get vaccinated. It works.1

Data isn’t going to cut it. Science isn’t either. So-called skeptics are going to need social pressure, social coercion, and that’s where the “liberal media bubble” comes in.

This is good, but I think Enten and the rest of the national press and pundit corps should do more. They should express, when appropriate and relevant, not only disapproval for those who won’t save their own lives against yet another variant of the coronavirus more contagious and deadly than the last. They should show disrespect, even contempt at times. I’d argue that the more the press corps, and hence respectable white people in this country, keep respecting people who cannot, or will not, take responsibility for their own lives, the longer this covid pandemic is going to endure.

Don’t they already show disrespect? That’s certainly one of the tropes we have, since 2016, accepted as true without scrutiny. Americans living and working “on the coasts” don’t understand “real Americans,” their values and culture, and their way of life. Liberals, Democrats and “the educated” think they know better. They think they are better. All of this together has been called the “liberal media bubble” or some such thing. Donald Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 seemed to prove the accusation, launching story after story after story about “real Americans” eating in diners, ruminating on public affairs. The “liberal media bubble” atoned for its sins.

To the extent that this was true, it’s false now. What are people like Henry Enten asking? Not voting for a certain candidate. Not supporting a certain policy. The “liberal media bubble” is asking Americans to get a free vaccination known to prohibit catching a deadly disease. Nearly 100 percent of the covid dead last month were not vaccinated. If you’re skeptical of vaccinations working, as Enten said, “this number clearly, clearly shows” they work. Once the data has been established, though—once something has been shown to be true independent of human agency—all anyone can do is speak truthfully. We don’t, however, have to respect people who can’t, or won’t protect themselves and the people they love. Anyway, we tried respect already. Remember all those diner articles! Let’s try something new. Let’s try disrespect.

Some conservatives say disrespecting skeptics only makes persuading them more difficult. “The American people are unruly and in a sour mood about their authority figures,” wrote National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty on Friday. “The 40 percent of people who reported their initial hesitance have barely budged so far — despite millions wasted on public education and ham-fisted attempts to prevent them from sharing their concerns and fears. If vaccine advocates really do want vaccination uptake to increase more than they want to feel superior, they have to change course.”

Yeah, no. If “the 40 percent of people who reported their initial hesitance” were genuinely hesitant, they’d be convinced that vaccines are safe and effective by the fact that nearly 100 percent of the covid dead last month were not vaccinated. They would be convinced despite “millions wasted on public education and ham-fisted attempts to prevent them from sharing their concerns and fears.” They would make up their own minds, something conservatives tell us is important to them. But because they are not convinced by truth independent of human agency, it’s fair to conclude persuading them was a fool’s errand all along. They were never “skeptical.” They were decided.

I don’t know why we should respect people who don’t respect themselves, except in an effort to get them to do what they won’t do for themselves and the ones they love. But data isn’t going to cut it. Science isn’t going to do the job. So-called skeptics are going to need social pressure, social coercion, and that’s where the “liberal media bubble” comes in. It must not keep respecting ridiculous excuses for bad behavior. The right and moral response is deep disapproval at the very least, contempt at the very most.

John Stoehr


Italics mine.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. Bennett on August 4, 2021 at 3:04 am

    I fear contempt won’t work either. Really, the best approach are economically incentivized forms of coercion. For example: insurance companies can raise rates on businesses that don’t ensure certain vaccination rates; so can life insurance companies for individuals. It’s no different really than the ask they already make about your smoking, drinking, and drug habits.

    Also, governments, particularly blue states and cities but even incentivized private citizens, should be actively filing lawsuits against purveyors of false information for endangering public health. Do these stand a chance in court? Who cares? It’s the shots across the bow that count–and the legal fees. And it’s only a matter of time before a judge hands down an Alex-Jones-like spanking that will have those fraudsters thinking twice about the crap they peddle.

    • Wokediscourses on August 4, 2021 at 3:04 am

      Wake up b4 the apocalypses.

  2. abbyinsm on August 4, 2021 at 3:04 am

    There are several simple (not easy) ways that government can do this. (1) The federal government can REQUIRE all military personnel to get the vaccine, just like they require them to get ridiculously short haircuts. (2) Local governments can REQUIRE all police and fire personnel to be vaccinated if they want to keep their jobs, just as they require firearms certification, health certification, etc. Those two steps will make a huge dent in the vaccine-resistant population.

    • Kathryn J. Routliffe on August 4, 2021 at 3:04 am

      Agreed. I think mandating the vaccine, in any field where mandates are already accepted, is more than valid, it’s necessary. I have no idea why our nation’s top military officials, the joint Chiefs of Staff, haven’t mandated it for people in the military. And if someone in the military has to get vaccinated, and is forced to realize two months later that flatware isn’t sticking to their cheekbones, and that their DNA hasn’t melted them into fleshy goo, they might even think it’s time to convince their spouse or their kids to get vaccinated ….

      • Wokediscourses on August 4, 2021 at 3:04 am

        This lady hasn’t heard of ivermectin.

  3. Bern on August 4, 2021 at 3:04 am

    Some folks just ‘fraid a needles…

    • Jim Prevatt on August 4, 2021 at 3:04 am

      Too bad. I’m afraid of guns and especially them that tote them.

    • Wokediscourses on August 4, 2021 at 3:04 am

      Some are afraid it’s biowweapon gone wrong or worse or that it’s overblown or that institutional capture may have occurred and we simply don’t know all the variables.

      • Bern on August 4, 2021 at 3:04 am

        I’m hip. I just think it’s worth picking off the low hangers first. There’s probly dozens of reasons people have for not getting shots, and there’s reason to believe that their own communities can help persuade them. The most crucial things, it seems to me, are to get the influencers on board, up to speed and out there influencin’, plus having a needle loaded and waiting wherever/whenever someone decides to get it.

  4. Jim Prevatt on August 4, 2021 at 3:04 am

    Tell me again why is it that people get to decid whether or not to be vaccinated against COVID-19. What am I not understanding about this? I don’t get a choice about whether to murder somebody. I don’t get a choice to drive without a driver’s license or to exceed the speed limit or run a red light or go to Switzerland without a passport. Why do people get a choice not to take the vaccine when they might very well expose somebody else who will die from it? What am I missing here? I’m not the former president so I can’t do anything I want to do and get away with it. As for not respecting the anti vaccers, I guess it’s worth a try but I don’t think they will give a flying (bleep) about that. Prison time and/or gigantic fines might work. Even trillionaires could be fined all the money and property they have except say, $75,000. I just talked to a neighbor who said they ought to be shipped off to an island somewhere. That sounds good. Maybe some cruel and unusual punishment threat would. Or let them all be drafted into the military where they can simply be ordered to be vaccinated or be locked up in solitary confinement until they come to their senses or die of old age or, O yes, COVID-19. Well, I’m getting all worked up. But my wife and I were both vaccinated in Jan/Feb this year and recently tested positive for COVID-19 so we’re in sanctuary for 2 weeks. No doubt we caught it from an un vaccinated (bleep bleep). And our vaccinations do help us not to get very sick but I’m 83 and don’t want COVID-19 the cause of my death. So be it.

  5. LIBA on August 4, 2021 at 3:04 am

    Fundamentally, this is all about tip-toeing around conservatives and placing a premium on their feelings and opinions on virtually any topic, no matter how uninformed, wrong and/or immoral. It’s Conservative Privilege. If the anti-vax movement had stayed on the hippy far left (which is where it started, ironically) does anyone think we would be getting articles from major conservative publications (like the National Review) complaining about the lack of respect afforded to anti-vaxxers? No effing way. And we wouldn’t be getting them from major liberal publications either. If rank and file conservatives were generally onboard with this vaccine, National Review would be screaming at those hippy left-wing holdouts to STFU and get the damn shot. But b/c antivax sentiment seems to have developed into more of a right-wing cause, the rest of us better be real damn careful about what we say to these people if we want them to get the shot. Remember that famous Trump T-shirt? It wasn’t “F*** Everyone’s Feelings”, it’s F*** YOUR Feelings”. (The feelings of conservatives still matter, of course.)

    • Wokediscourses on August 4, 2021 at 3:04 am

      This is stupidity personified.

  6. Wokediscourses on August 4, 2021 at 3:04 am

    Bret Weinstein will be president one day and you all will cry a lot.

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